It’s no small feat to set a movie in the 80s without drowning in nostalgia, making too many winking asides to decade’s sillier aspects, and poke fun at the time travel genre at the same time, but Hot Tub Time Machine manages to pull it off. The film is at its best when it’s fearlessly silly and allows its leads to be as disgusting, confused, profane, and as over-the-top as the scene requires. The triple threat of comedic actors Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, and Clark Duke make the movie one that you’ll be laughing steadily throughout and discussing your favorite jokes after you leave.
Adam (John Cusack), Lou (Rob Corddry), Nick (Craig Robinson), and Jacob (Duke) are all at a pretty shitty place in their present-day lives. Adam and Nick hate their jobs and their love-lives, Adam’s nephew Jacob wastes his days doing prison time in Second-Life, and Lou is a complete mess-of-an-alocholic ass-hole who seems destined to die bitter and alone. After Lou’s stupidity makes it look like he tried to commit suicide, Adam and Nick decide its time to go back to the winter resort where all three had the best time of their young lives. Unfortunately, the resort is as defeated as their current lives but with the added benefit of smelling like cat piss
All seems lost until the guys discover a working hot tub outside their room. However, as science tells us, heavy drinking and drug use while in a hot tub inevitably leads to time travel and the quartet find themselves transported back to 1986. Worried about the butterfly effect, Adam, Lou, and Nick (who look like their younger selves to everyone in 1986) try to repeat their actions from that weekend. Then they remember that their lives suck and it’s time to erase some regrets. Meanwhile, Jacob is being one angry responsible guy as he wants get back to the present and to make sure he gets the privilege of existing before his fellow time-travelers fuck it up.
Hot Tub Time Machine is a tricky balancing act that manages (for the most part) to walk the line and succeed in being goddamn hilarious. Director Steve Pink almost always pulls the film back from falling too far in one direction. If it’s embracing the 80s a little too tightly, you’ll get one of the guys noting that the 80s also gave us Ronald Reagan and AIDS. If the aesthetic starts becoming a little too cheesy and overdone, Pink finds the charm in Walkmans and cueing up one of the many great 80s tracks in the films. The same balance goes for the time travel as the film has to seriously establish the rules, but doesn’t shy from having the characters reflect on time-travel using knowledge gleamed from time travel movies (bonus points for a Timecop mention).
But more than anything, this film relies on its comic actors and they do not disappoint. Robinson, who is one of the best deadpan comic actors out there, gets to have more variety in this role as he makes those quiet one-liners that absolutely kill, but also gets up on stage and rock out to “Jesse’s Girl” (although it’s followed by well-meaning tribute to the “Johnny B. Good” scene in Back to the Future, but making his band’s encore “Let’s Get it Started” was a weak song choice). Duke gets to work as an audience surrogate, commenting on the absurdity of the situation and mocking the behavior of his fellow hot tub time-travelers. The weak link is Cusack who feels like he’s in the film because he was an 80s icon but then they had no idea what to do with his character and just stuck him in a mini-love story with a random music journalist (Lizzy Caplan) with whom he has no chemistry.
However, it’s Corddry who ends up ruling this film. It’s an overdue breakout performance that will (hopefully) land him in more starring roles. It’s not just his talent for improv and the painfully hilarious lines he’s clearly ad-libbing that makes it a fantastic performance. What’s impressive is that Lou is such a tremendous ass-hole but, as Adam and Nick remark early in the film, he’s our ass-hole. The character’s unmerited swagger and bravado is too charming to resist. Rob Corrdy’s has arrived and it’s about fucking time.
Oh, and the film features one of the all-time greatest running gags. I won’t spoil what it is other than to say that it will have you laughing hysterically and starting a round of applause. I could recommend the movie based on that joke alone. Thankfully, I can recommend the film for a variety of reasons. But the best reason is I can give is that when it clicks, Hot Tub Time Machine is filled with more comic energy than John Belushi on coke.