Hot Tub Time Machine stars John Cusack, Craig Robinson, and Rob Corddry as three friends who travel back to the '80s, along with Cusack’s 20-year-old nephew (Clark Duke), via a ski resort hot tub gone haywire. Funny premise, but ultimately the movie is a big disappointment. I was expecting a dumb yet entertaining comedy, but all I got was dumb.
In the opening act of the movie, Lou (Corddry) locks himself in the garage with the car running. Was it an accident or a suicide attempt? Lou says accident, but his friends (Cusack and Robinson) think otherwise. Adam (Cusack) has just been dumped by his girlfriend, and figures the best thing for everyone would be to head up to their old stomping grounds, an Alaskan ski resort. Back in the day the trio used to drink, get high, and pick up chicks. Adam thinks reliving the past glory will cheer them all up. He also wants to give his video game-loving nephew Jacob some real life experience.
The ski resort, however, holds nothing of its past. It’s rundown and lifeless. The four dejectedly go to their huge ski lodge suite, the same one they always stayed in, to find it just as dilapidated. Even the hot tub is in complete disrepair. There is an odd mysteriousness about the place though. The one-armed doorman, played by the ageless Crispin Glover (of Back to the Future), and the repairman who appears out of nowhere (Chevy Chase), are like a characters straight out of The Twilight Zone. They are obviously meant to be that way, because after the repairman miraculously restores the hot tub to working condition the adventure begins.
After a night of drunkenness in the hot tub the four wake up to find themselves in a suddenly pristine and bustling ski town. None of them realize it right away, not until they are surrounded by neon colored ski jackets, big hair, and headbands. At that point it becomes apparent that '80s nostalgia has become passé. We’ve seen all those things before, along with giant cell phones, Members Only jackets, and leg warmers. Hot Tub Time Machine is filled with every possible '80s cliché there is. Nonetheless there is still some comic potential in their situation. It turns out the three men must relive the night they went back to exactly as it happened or risk losing their whole future.
At one point Jacob meets his mom, who turns out to be the town slut, much to Jacob’s horror. The scene of their meeting is funny but brief, and that’s pretty much the pattern of the whole movie. Every so often there's a funny line or situation that ultimately goes nowhere. The funniest sequence is Nick’s (Robinson) drunken phone call to his wife, and his later rantings about his wife to his one-night stand. It turns out Nick’s wife cheated on him and he’s so torn up about it he decides to call her to tell her off, but in this world she’s only nine years old. In order to preserve the future Nick must have his one-night stand, Adam must break up with his sex-obsessed girlfriend, and Lou must get beat up by the town jerks.
The film laboriously takes all the characters through their objectives. It’s not all that interesting for the characters to have to literally relive their past (looking like their young selves it’s revealed when they look in the mirror), with Jacob uselessly tagging along. It would have been much more fun for them to just have traveled back in time in a fish out of water type story. Jacob’s unfamiliarity with the past is barely utilized at all. Surely he could have gotten himself into some funny situations with the time period.
The movie never realizes its full potential. It doesn’t push the humor far enough and it does very little with the idea of regret and the wish to change the past. Adam has always regretted breaking up with his sex-obsessed girlfriend, Nick always wanted to be a musician but ended up a dog groomer, and Lou just wants to be happy. While I wasn’t looking for conventional, I was looking for something. It could have been something hilarious, something touching, something as out of the ordinary as a hot tub that’s really a time machine, but instead it was all just kind of empty.
Hot Tub Time Machine is a movie that seems to want to be The Hangover in the '80s. It wants to be about three guys finding themselves and learning about life while having a raucous good time, and it could have been all of those things if it had just worked a little harder. The DVD features both the theatrical and unrated versions of the movie. The unrated version being only four minutes longer adds a little more crude humor but not much else. The DVD also contains deleted scenes and the original theatrical trailer.