Directed by Steve Pink
Starring John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Clark Duke, Chevy Chase, Crispin Glover
This movie is about as unlikely as its title. Part Peggy Sue Got Married, part Back To The Future and part every other movie in the ’80’s, Hot Tub Time Machine is fun, crude and its not afraid to strip it’s characters of everything sacrosanct in a male-dominated comedy. Somehow it manages to play fast, loose and accurately. The references to ’80’s movies are so frequent and diffuse, you could spend a day Googling every line of dialogue and visual gag and not find them all.
“You’re my best friend?”
“You’re…one of my best friends.”
Only Cusack can deliver a line of dialogue with such wonderful agony. He spends much of the film on the wrong end of a relationship. It seems that he has spent a large part of his career on the wrong side of relationships, and that is a comfortable feeling for viewers. Women pine for him; men sympathize with him. He takes a not so carefully crafted career and bends it sideways here.
Starting off with each of 3 friends suffering through their 40’s expecting not much out of the rest of their days, they spend time being miserable alone. They are brought together when one of them has a seemingly accidental case of carbon-monoxide poisoning. Having the idea range even now of a slingshot, they decide to make a weekend trip to a ski resort (dragging along Cusack’s nephew) that they used to frequent in their drugging, drinking, freewheeling days in the ’80’s. In an accidental time warp, brought on by a can of Russian Energy drink Chernobly (think Red Bull on Steroids), a squirrel and their inebriated selves in a hot tub, they end up back in 1986. They appear middle age to each other, but as young adults to everyone else.
Sounds convoluted, to be sure. By the time you get there, though, you don’t care. The path they take to try to get back is lighted, in a smart ass way, by Chevy Chase, doing his best Don Knotts circa Pleasantville impression. It says something about how awful Chase’s career has been since the halcyon days for Vacation, Caddyshack and Fletch, that this would be considered a memorable role, but hey, that’s what you get when your ambition s0 outweighs your talent.
The real find in the movie is Craig Robinson. Long an asset to the wonderful show, The Office, his talent is expanded here into playing someone who is dominated by the events of his life. Robinson’s ability to portray an everyman appeals to a variety of American males. He is funny without being intimidating, smooth or begrudged. That is a rare ability and it will probably make him into a big star soon.
Rob Corddry makes a breakthrough here, too. He is not playing anything too different from earlier roles, but his ability to embarrass himself and others is a hard thing to get right without being some cloying idiot (Chevy Chase again comes to mind). His energy drives the film and saturates it with a booze-filled comic rage that would threaten to push the film into parody if not for the wonderful counter that is provided by Clark Duke. A frequent collaborator with his best friend, Michael Cera, Duke’s ability to point out the obvious is charming, to say the least. He actually was turned down the role of Fogell due to his lack of Jewishness, whatever that means. I would say they lost out, but the guy who ended up playing McLovin was pretty good, too. Oh well, I like him plenty here, and look forward to his future endeavors.
Hot Tub Time Machine is by no means perfect. The proliferation of breasts, booze and drugs is a little much for my tastes. This film is what I would consider a hard “R” for the drugs alone. I would say it is inappropriate for anyone under 20, in fact. There is such a lack of consequence to addiction, even a suicide attempt is played as wacky hi-jinks. Women are not so much people as ideals in this film. Sure, it is a film about loser guys, but it throws any pretense of reality out the window when half of the population is what exists in your mind when you hear the song “867-5309 (Jenny).” Still, longtime Cusack collaborator Steve Pink manages to keep things popping and fresh, and you can’t do that, all the time by being sensible.
I did enjoy it and will watch in the future with a blind eye to the faults. It is just a movie, after all.
(***1/2 out of *****)