Recently, I’ve been hiring “classic” movies that I never saw in my youth for one reason or another. A few weeks ago, Poltergeist. (Actually pretty good; special effects alas did not stand test of time.) The day before I saw Hot Tub Time Machine, I hired Back to the Future. I’ve never seen any of the trilogy, but felt I had because the films are referenced all the time. And none more so than Hot Tub Time Machine, alarmingly making it two mid-eighties-based time-travel films starring Crispin Glover I had seen in the space of sixteen hours.
Hot Tub Time Machine has one of those titles that has the plus of being fairly self-explanatory along with the negative of sending a portion of the population into pained sighs as soon as the title is uttered. Another time travel movie? Another buddy movie? It is both of those, and so much less.
Three friends—Adam, Nick, and Lou—are reunited after an accident, appearing to be a suicide attempt, sends Lou to hospital. In an attempt to make him feel better, his old pals take him, along with Adam’s socially awkward nephew Jacob, back to the holiday destination of their youth: the ski resort of Kodiak Falls. It isn’t the same as it was in their 1986 heyday, however, and everything is rundown, leaving them desolate until they pile into their room’s hot tub, get completely trashed and, as you do, time travel back twenty-four years.
I almost feel like this movie should have been made four years ago. With 80s retro fashion tearing its way through the city streets, Alf repeats on channel 99 and Spandau Ballet touring two weeks ago, I don’t think that if I was in that situation I’d make the connection that I’d time travelled unless I brought up a conversation about the Melbourne Storm drama and everyone asked me who the hell I was talking about. Now, with everyone digging big hair and leggings, the hilarity of everyone’s outfits is actually pretty mild. Frankly, it looks more like a 2010 interpretation of the eighties than a convincing eighties set. The four guys don’t pick up on it for a while either, and when they do, they realise they have to replay everything the same as they did that time twenty-four years ago, to sustain their future lives, and that of Jacob, yet to be born and already flickering in and out of reality a la Michael J Fox’s siblings in Back to the Future. Adam has to break up again with the beautiful Jennie, despite just splitting with his modern-day girlfriend; Lou has to suffer an ass-kicking; Nick has to sleep with one of his faltering band’s groupies despite his undying love for modern-day wife Courtney. Appearing, conveniently, as their 1986 selves to everyone but each other (and us, unless they’re looking in the mirror), can they repeat all of these acts, knowing how crappy life ended up afterwards?
Unsurprisingly for anyone who has read the title, this film isn’t great. The time travel premise is handled poorly, and every scene that revolved around the hot tub and the concept behind travel made me want to cringe. Time travel is a difficult concept to buy at the best of times, but with Chevy Chase turning up as possibly some kind of time machine mechanic or possibly someone just there to spout nonsense and be representative of mid-eighties movies, it leaves a lot to be desired. I’m aware it’s the kind of ridiculous buddy movie where the brain should be left at the counter, but I still couldn’t buy it, especially when it begins with a scene in the hot tub where our heroes are joined by a strange cast of characters that are unexplained and rarely seen again. Ignoring that, it was otherwise one of those comedies that meandered along in that kind of relaxed, passable way that mainstream comedies have. It wasn’t terrible, but it sure wasn’t original; less a Back to the Future homage and more straight rip-off. There was a fair whack of gross-out humour, mostly from Rob Corddry as general failure Lou, though he also supplies some of the movie’s most hilarious scenes, if you can get past all his aggressively offensive ones. What he yells out during his unromantic sex scene is priceless. I guess, as he is the one yelling most often, there had to be some hits along with the misses.
As far as the movie’s heart goes, the friendship between them isn’t really discussed. Where did they meet? What is this Cincinnati stuff they talk about? Why did their friendship fall apart? Am I emotionally invested in any of them? The little background we get on them is, to be honest, not enough. If they had all died in a fiery explosion I probably wouldn’t have really cared, as long as it was funny. John Cusack is Adam, insurance salesman and a legitimate star of the eighties who, after the horror of 2012, is an okay dude, but mostly still coasting on previous acting goodwill. Rob Corddry is perfect as Lou, but still mostly an asshole. Craig Robinson, buddy-movie veteran from the likes of Knocked Up et al, is sappy Nick, whose final lesson regarding surnames struck a misogynistic chord. Clark Duke is Jacob, Adam’s nephew and pretty much playing the exact same character he was in Kick-Ass, and with the same hair. Also hailing from Kick-Ass’ cast is big-haired Jennie, played with a terrifying amount of bounce by Lyndsy Fonseca (Katie from the previous movie). Throwing out the timeline is April, Mean Girls’ Lizzy Kaplan, there to steal Adam’s heart but only participating in nonsense conversations where Adam comes across as a deluded and frantic moron. Perhaps that was the cool thing to be in the eighties; I forget.
There aren’t enough eighties/future jokes, and some of them feel forced. Jacob is in a frenzy trying to locate everyone at one point, and then we cut to him seconds later having a relaxed conversation with a girl about how to contact her. “Can I text you? What’s your email?” When she is confused, he says, “How will I find you?” and she replies, “Come find me!” to which he says, “But that just sounds...exhausting.” Funny, and true, but shoehorned in for the gag.
Am I taking this too seriously? It appears so. I’m someone who can abandon reality for a movie that is witty enough, but this wasn’t one of them. It’s not that bad, but it’s not excellent. I could say it would be funnier for those partying in 1986 (I was four at the time), but I’m not sure of that either, and I don’t know if many 80s teens will be seeing it anyway as we were in the very small proportion of the over-eighteens in the cinema. All I can say is: don’t see it too soon after a rewatch of Back to the Future, otherwise you’ll notice nothing but similarities, like how both Marty McFly and Adam are even wearing the same outfits—puffer vests—for the duration. Though Marty’s pants are tighter.