by Brett Parker
What happens when you cross The Hangover with Back to the Future? You get Hot Tub Time Machine, a comedy armed with what has to be one of the funniest titles in cinematic history. It rings with a goofball's invite to ultra-silly kitsch. All you can really hope for in such a venture is for the film itself to live up to the playful jolliness of the title. It does, and it even makes sincere efforts to surpass it.
The comedy follows a group of four friends who are all facing serious boughts of inadequacy in their lives. Adam (John Cusack) has just suffered a toxic break-up with his girlfriend and is in a miserable rut. His nephew, Jacob (Clark Duke), lives in his Uncle's basement and wastes his days on the internet. Nick (Craig Robinson) is stuck in a dead-end dog grooming job and suffers a demanding wife who may be cheating on him. Lou (Rob Corddry) is a reckless boozer with nothing of substance in his adult life. One night, he has a drunken mishap with his car in his home garage that looks very much like a suicidal act. Lou swears it was a drunken mistake, but the other three still have their concerns and try to devise a way to cheer him up. Their plan is to spend the weekend at a ski resort they used to populate in their youth. The foursome pack up and head to the resort, only to discover that it has been seriously run down over the years to become one of the most loathsome ski resorts in existence.
Despite their shabby surroundings, the four decide to make the best of their trip and they booze it up in their hotel suite's hot tub. After a night of binging heavily in the tub waters, the guys awaken to discover that the hot tub has magically transported them back to the 1980s. The ski resort is overrun with leg warmers, jerry curls, and giant cell phones! It turns out the gang has magically inhabited their younger selves during the last trip they took to that lodge in their youth (Jacob wasn't even born yet, but he is still present in this blast from the past). While stuck in the past, the gang contemplates whether its better to follow the same path their lives have taken or use their knowledge of the future to make things better for themselves. Hijinks ensue, time gets altered, and a mysterious Repair Man (Chevy Chase) tries to help them to get home.
It is said that John Cusack received a phone call to help contribute to a comedy script from MGM. Once he heard the title, he laughed out loud and agreed to help out on the condition that Steve Pink (his collaborator on Grosse Point Blank and High Fidelity) got to join him. MGM made the right move, for we can sense how Pink's direction and Cusack's co-producing and script contributions helped save this comic romp from being callow trash. Like their earlier works, Pink and Cusack bring a feeling of middle-aged angst, romantic sweetness, and strong masculine insight to the material. You can certainly see the ways in which this deranged sitcom strides towards grown-up material. It's an on-screen struggle between screwball and maturity, a battle that screwball wins!
The comedy starts off a bit slow; the jokes and expositions are a bit weak, yet things get more colorful (literally) once the foursome finds their way to the 80s. It's in this pastel-colored decade where the film finds its comic momentum and takes off running. Whats most impressive, and surprising, is the various and thoughtful ways the main dudes discuss matters of the Space-Time Continuum. Most comedies revolved around time leaps usually take their sci-fi concepts for granted. Here we see hilariously active discussions about time travel: should the guys relive their past the exact same way? Should they alter the course of their futures? Should they invent stuff before its meant to be invented? Its refreshing to see time travelers asking the very same questions we would ask in such a situation.
The film actually produces ingenious gags to play off of the logic of the plot's timeline. There's an inspired bit involving a bellhop (Crispin Glover) who is fated to suffer a severed arm sometime in the 80s. Another hilarious scene shows Lou betting on a Super Bowl using his foresight of the future (this scene produces a surprise cameo from a deliciously 80s movie star, who shows up with one of the most beautiful women in showbiz on his arm). A funky fun sequence shows Nick stealing from the Black Eyed Peas to dazzle during a musical set at a nightclub. And I really enjoyed the film's over-the-top play on Back to the Future's slightly-superficial yet undeniably-satisfying ending.
Hot Tub Time Machine is a mixture between the current cinematic trend of bromance movies and the 80s trend of men finding their true selves in a cynical and confusing time. The highly likeable cast hurtle through the gags with a heroic sincerity and conviction while the filmmakers treat us to more brain cells than we'd expect. It may be a slight enterprise, but it's a wildly fun comic ride that successfully makes you laugh harder at the film than you did at the title.