It is not difficult to figure out the story of “Hot Tub Time Machine.” There is a hot tub. It allows people to travel through time. In spite or perhaps because of this simplicity—from the film’s opening, cornball photo montage of people in hot tubs, all the way to its end credits—“Hot Tub Time Machine” is a raucously funny movie, even if parts of it feel out of place.
The time travelers of the film are four pathetic individuals, discontent with their boring and mediocre lives. There’s Adam (John Cusack), a sadsack insurance salesman who has just been left by his girlfriend; Jacob (Clark Duke), Adam’s nephew and asocial, geeky “Stargate” fanfiction author; Nick (Craig Robinson), a former musician who now dissects dog poop for a living; and Lou (Rob Corrdry), an alcoholic who Adam describes as “an asshole, but he’s our asshole.”
The film centers on a nostalgic trip to a ski resort, where the group hopes to relive the bacchanalian days of their youth. “We were young, we had momentum,” laments Cusack’s character. Surprised to find the entire town rundown and decrepit, they console themselves with alcohol, drugs, and a mysterious hot tub. In the morning, they wake up in 1986, which the film recreates in painstaking detail. There are a number of funny references to Poison, “Miami Vice,” Jheri curls, Ronald Reagan, and when MTV actually lived up to its namesake.
The group sets out as their younger selves, reliving their past. Fearing the butterfly effect, though, they attempt to recreate events exactly as they had happened before. Throughout the entire film, the actors are shown in their mature, present-day bodies, despite everyone else in 1986 seeing them as adolescents. Director Steve Pink occasionally cuts between the actors and their younger reflections in mirrors in a sight gag used to great effect, for instance, reminding us of Nick’s ill-advised Kid ‘n Play haircut. Jacob, however, having not been born in 1986, remains in his normal body.
The actor who undoubtedly steals the show is Corrdry, who, unashamedly and sometimes with glee, is not afraid to go for the easy laugh. This is evident in a scene in which he pulls out his own catheter, or his numerous instances of projectile vomiting, getting beat up, and rear nudity. It is mostly immature, but Corrdry pulls it off with a lot of energy and enthusiasm.
Craig Robinson’s Nick, married in the present day, is also a very funny character, especially during a cocaine-fueled recap of the “Terminator” series or in a lewd phone call to his then nine-year-old wife. He also manages to pull off a surprisingly listenable cover (or is it a debut performance?) of The Black-Eyed Peas’ “Let’s Get It Started”.
Cusack and Duke’s characters, however, are less compelling. Adam gets bogged down in an uninspiring relationship with a music journalist (Lizzy Caplan), musing on predestination at odd, seemingly random points in the story. It’s as if Pink tried to dispense with the heavy, emotional baggage of the film as quickly as possible, which eventually bogs down the film’s pacing. Jacob, having not been alive in 1986, spends the majority of the film running around frantically, trying to figure out how to get back to the present.
The supporting cast is rounded out by Chevy Chase, only referred to as “the mysterious time travel guy,” who does almost nothing in the film except speak cryptically and repeatedly mistake Jacob for a girl.
There are a few great jokes in the film that involve Crispin Glover as a hotel attendant whose present-day self is missing an arm. Throughout the film, there are numerous instances of the character coming close to losing the limb, much to the frustration of Corrdry, who desperately wants to see it happen.
As crude as it is, the film manages to be a success, mostly riding on the enthusiasm and comic timing of its main cast. It might not be highbrow, but “Hot Tub Time Machine” is still worth taking a dip.
—Staff writer Brian A. Feldman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.