Hot Tub Time Machine. If those four words didn’t make you giggle then feel free to stop reading. There’s nothing for you to see here. Clearly a movie with a title like that won’t be scooping up any Oscars this time next year. Conversely, it’s a pretty safe bet that all parties concerned know that. But, to paraphrase The Kids In The Hall’s Bruce MuCulloch “Don’t let that scare you, let that liberate you. Because when you’re free-flying with Hot Tub Time Machine, man…what do you need a safety net for?” Within the first 20 minutes we are treated to three separate jokes encompassing the trifecta of bodily fluids (poop, pee and puke). And, for good measure, there’s a fourth joke involving the bodily fluid that dare not speak its name. It’s a crass, crude and relentlessly ridiculous comedy of the lowest common denominator. And, um…it kind of works.
The film follows three middle-aged men (John Cusack, Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry) each unhappy with their lives for various, though essentially similar, reasons. The three are sent back in time via a hot tub (what did you think was gonna happen) along with Cusack’s 20-year old nephew (Greek’s Clark Duke). The four are dropped into the year 1986 at a ski lodge they frequented in their youth. However, not only are they stuck in 1986 but they are also their younger selves; appearing to be in their early twenties to everyone but the audience. It’s a fateful night where each made decisions that forever affected their lives. They are faced with the classic time travel conundrum: should they strive to repeat their mistakes in order to preserve the future or should they use their knowledge for personal and/or financial gain?
Cusack cut his teeth in movies like this. Though they were admittedly less raunchy, Hot Tub Time Machine isn’t a far cry from the movies that launched his career such as Better Off Dead…, One Crazy Summer or The Sure Thing. If this isn’t Lane Meyer at 40 then I don’t know what is. The fact that Cusack has spent the last twenty years attempting to distance himself from films like these only serves to make the sight of him embracing the genre all the more appealing. Perhaps it’s because he’s also the producer or maybe it’s because Steve Pink, longtime friend and former collaborator on films like Grosse Pointe Blank, High Fidelity and The Jack Bull, is the director. Regardless of the reason why, embrace it he does. If you grew up watching Cusack (as I did) it’s hard not to find yourself grinning ear-to-ear when he’s suddenly returned to a world of pastel snowsuits, Walkmans and Cutting Crew.
Ironically, it’s the movie’s aforementioned quest for the lowest common denominator that makes the movie a success. It’s not that every joke works but it’s precisely the film’s scattershot “anything-for-a-laugh” attitude that allows it to connect as frequently as it does. The ‘80s, time travel paradoxes, bodily excretions, slapstick, pop-culture references or just good ol’ fashion sex jokes…the movie has no shame. And it’s this shamelessness, combined with the charisma and camaraderie of the core cast, which allows the film to succeed more than it has any right to.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being The Hangover and 1 being Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time, Hot Tub Time Machine gets an 8.
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