“Hot Tub Time Machine” is not a thinking man’s movie, but, to be fair, to anticipate any more of it would be hopelessly expectational.
The story follows four losers – three in their 40s and one in his early 20s – seeking excitement and, for the first three, a return to lost youth.
Recently-dumped insurance salesman Adam reunites with old pals Lou and Nick after Lou lands in the hospital from a Mötley Crüe-induced carbon monoxide poisoning. The men, each feeling unfulfilled, plan a road trip to their former haunt, a ski resort, dragging along Adam’s Second Life-obsessed nephew Jacob.
The men find the resort, the site of so many of their fondest memories and consorts, is now no more than a hole in the wall. The group is constantly reminded of what the resort used to mean to them, from a vulgar carving in the wood furniture to the now-one-armed bellhop, portrayed with gusto by the ever-creepy Crispin Glover. The decrepit lodge provides little opportunity for the wild fun they remember, so the men opt instead for a whirlwind night in the hot tub. When they awake from their drunken stupor, the men find themselves in 1986. Their vehicle of time travel is, of course, the titular hot tub, and the change in decades is indicated by a poor quality trip-fest of bright colors and rapid camera movements.
The transformation is all ‘80s clichés, from neon tracksuits to Aquanet hair, complemented by a lame Michael Jackson skin color gag. In 1986, the three older men have scores to settle: For Adam, it’s the girl who got away (and impaled him in the process); for Lou, it’s the fight no one supported him in; and for Nick, it’s a burgeoning musical career abandoned for an antagonistic wife. All wish to make amends but worry of the sci-fi phenomenon known as “the butterfly effect” (“a great movie,” Lou replies, referring to the 2004 Ashton Kutcher flop).
The result is a bawdy tale of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll (if introducing the Black Eyed Peas to 1986 can really be considered “rock ‘n’ roll”) which fails to amuse. The dialogue is an endless barrage of ‘80s cultural references, and the rest of the pithy conversation is inundated with the ethos of masculinity and, worse, misogyny.
Poor John Cusack seems nostalgic for his 80s celebrity, and his Lloyd Dobler-esque romanticism late in the movie seems forced and contrary to the gross-out vulgarity of the brunt of the film. Not a single character is likable or even remotely appealing – you don’t root for their success or even their happiness.
Even the comedic forces of Clark Duke (“Greek”) as Jacob and Craig Robinson (“The Office”) as Nick can’t salvage the pathetic “The Hangover” meets “Back to the Future” hybrid. It’s a bro-flick of grown men attempting to reclaim their youth that doesn’t resonate even with the generation familiar with the ’80s. The actors, notably Cusack and the strangely cast Chevy Chase as the hot tub mechanic, seem out of place and tragically grasping a lost kind of celebrity. “Hot Tub Time Machine’s” convenient ending neatly wrapped together the loose ends, with a brash decision to change the past resulting in pleasant futures for the protagonists, but the resolution seems rash and hurried. It serves as a cheeky way to conclude a bland comedic film that relies far too heavily on cultural relevance.
If only this time machine really did exist – to take me back to before I decided to watch it – twice.