HOT TUB TIME MACHINE is a completely silly premise that the film purveying it has the excellent good sense to not only acknowledge, but also to mock. That premise is three middle-aged guys and a geeky nephew hop into a hot tub that magically transports them back to 1986. The flick also has the excellent good sense to mock the teen flicks from way back then, but in an homage sort of way that mimics the style while never quite taking it seriously.
Those three guys are ex-best friends brought together when one of them, Lou (Rob Corddry), accidentally attempts suicide with donuts, heavy metal, and a Corvette. At his hospital bedside, Adam (John Cusak) and Nick (Craig Robinson) launch into a litany of all the reasons Lou doesn’t have for living, including unemployability and erectile dysfunction, and then decide the best thing to do is take him on a weekend getaway to Kodiak Valley, the ski resort where they did all their best partying 20 years and more ago. The timing couldn’t be better. Adam’s live-in girlfriend has just dumped him, his line-in nephew, Jacob (Clark Duke) hasn’t been out of his basement in weeks, and Nick’s just pulled a set of keys from a dog’s nether regions as part of his job in the canine grooming business. The four of them hit the road only to discover that their old party heaven is now all but a ghost town. In a last ditch attempt to recapture their old glory, they hit the hot tub with a variety of controlled substances, only to wake up the next morning transported back to 1986, land of Reagan, Commie haters, and Jacob’s mother, Adam’s sister (Collette Wolf) partying harder than anyone else. Yes, it’s terrifying. And so is the fact that they look like their younger selves to everyone around them, and that the 1986 in which they find themselves is a particularly awful weekend that they don’t really want to repeat. One involving beatings, bad breakups, and the squelching of a budding musical career. Less terrifying, but infinitely more annoying, is the hot tub repairman (Chevy Chase) who speaks cryptically, disappears abruptly, and hints darkly that unless they do everything they did before, the world will change in ways that no one can predict.
There are the expected, and richly deserved, jibes at the silliness of past fads and fashions, plus the BACK TO THE FUTURE-esque introduction of non-era music to an enthusiastic crowd. The cast carries it off with a nice sense of irony and an even better one of comedic timing as they balance middle-age angst with adolescent idiocy and embrace the ridiculous while playing it absolutely straight. Including Robinson deadpanning the signature line once Nick’s figured out what’s going on, “It’s a hot tub time machine.”
Cusak is acerbic and mopey as Adam longs for the spandex-clad girl (Lyndsy Fonseca) he dumped then and wonders what made him do such a silly thing and how he can possibly bring himself to do it again. Particularly since it involves a fork to the eye. Robinson is sad and mopey as Nick wonders why his wife in the present cheated on him when he gave up all his dreams for her and weeps through hooking up with a groupie in the past because it’s his destiny. Duke is mopey as Jacob is constantly mistaken for a girl by everyone and because he is the only one focusing on getting them back to the present using his extensive knowledge of cult television as a guide. Corddry is sunniest, gleefully crass. with an excited gleam in his eye as he fails to see boundaries, loses out sure things, and terrorizes wildlife with his projectile vomiting. He also brings a stunningly effective sense of fun to Lou as he waits impatiently for the affable yet somehow creepy bellhop (Crispin Glover) in 1986 to lose his arm, thus to become the surly and really creepy bellhop of the present.
It’s not particularly memorable, but HOT TUB TIME MACHINE has one purpose and one purpose only, to make its audience laugh, and that it does with satisfying regularity.