Hot Tub Time Machine has a great title. It’s short and silly; gleefully direct and goofy. If only the movie that appears after the title were possessed with similar qualities. The movie never rises to the level of the title. Or should that be lowers? Instead, the movie is a slog of manic vulgarity pitched at the same shrieking level for the entire run time. There’s little modulation to be found.
But it sure starts promisingly enough. Three middle-aged men are fed-up with their sad lives. John Cusack was dumped, Craig Robinson works at a salon for dogs, and Rob Corddry just tried to commit suicide. To try to cheer themselves up, they go away for a weekend at a ski resort that was the site of good times back when they were in their late-teens and early-twenties. Cusack has to bring his nephew, Clark Duke, along for the trip, promising him a great time. Too bad the kid would rather be playing “Second Life.” They’re all pretty depressed, a situation that isn’t helped by the decrepitude of the resort’s current state. Before you know it, their suite’s hot tub lights up with a seductive glow and burbles with suspicious bubbles. They hop in and whoosh! It’s 1986!
The movie is content to run through a typical time-travel plot, complete with paradoxes and culture-clashes, and even has a wizened, though very vague, Doc Brown figure played by Chevy Chase who pops up from time to time to deliver oddball exposition. Contributing to the 80’s vibe is Crispin Glover as the bellhop. Luckily, the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously; it’s content to wallow in the traditional trappings of a middling 80’s comedy. Unluckily, this means the (hopefully) ironic sexism and homophobia piles up until it starts to feel like the real thing. I did laugh, though, at the name of the pompous preppie who bullies the leads. Is there a more 80’s-sounding villain-name than Blaine?
The movie is essentially a whirlwind of pop-culture references and very gross gross-out gags. Director Steve Pink keeps things fast, goofy, and totally undisciplined, but the jokes just aren’t funny. It’s not really the cast’s fault. Cusack’s appealing, Duke does his best, and Robinson’s quietly hilarious. Corddry’s ultimately grating (he leaves no line un-shouted), but that’s just an example of poor direction. The main buzz-kill is the script, attributed to Josh Heald, Sean Anders, and John Morris. They came up with a great idea, but not enough details to fill it in. It’s a pile-up of desperate attempts at humor that clogs up the path of the genuinely funny moments.
I wanted to like the movie, I really did, and I would be dishonest if I sat here and wrote that I never laughed. The movie has some fun moments here and there – a cute visual echo of Sixteen Candles famous kitchen-table kiss, a funny twist on Back to the Future’s “Johnny B. Goode” sequence that substitutes Chuck Berry with the Black-Eyed Peas – but as an entire experience, the movie just falls flat.