Hot Tub Time Machine (review)

Tucker Max to the Future

There is precisely one moment of barely mild amusement in Hot Tub Time Machine, which comes after our four dubious heroes have journeyed from the year 2010 to 1986, and actor Craig Robinson, in character as the hapless Nick, notes that the small soaking pool on the deck of their ski-resort hotel suite “must be some sort of hot tub time machine”… and then Robinson, as himself, raises his gaze from said device to make eye contact with us in the audience. It’s a sly little hint that the movie is in on the joke of how ridiculous the whole endeavor is.

Except Hot Tub Time Machine is not in on the joke. It’s merely so in love with the notion of the joke that it doesn’t seem to feel the need to actually be funny about it, as if the title and concept alone were enough. “Hot tub time machine,” you can feel the whole movie snickering. “Hello! Hot. Tub. Time. Machine!” Okay, yes, and… what about it?

What about it is an excuse to assemble a tediously familiar collection of pointlessly crude moments drunk on their own cruelty and call it a movie. They should have titled it Tucker Max to the Future if they wanted folks to have an accurate idea of what they were in for. Does it really take three screenwriters — Josh Heald, Sean Anders, and John Morris (the latter two collaborated on the awful Sex Drive and the clever NBT: Never Been Thawed) — to excrete even this many “jokes” about projectile vomiting, discomfort about perfectly normal bodily fluids, terror regarding what happens when a guy gets Teh Gay all over him, and what horrible castrating cheating bitches women are (when they aren’t dirty nasty sluts who love it when a man treats them like his personal property to be passed around for sexual favors as he commands, that is)? Couldn’t one guy just have cut-and-pasted stuff from Maxim magazine onto some bad Quantum Leap fan fiction and called it a day? (And we know they know what fan fiction is, because they give it a shout-out.)

Hot Tub Time Machine opens with an effort at humor concerning dog shit — this is to demonstrate what a loser Robinson’s (The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard, Post Grad) aforementioned Nick is, that his job involves touching dog shit — and this unfortunately will be the height of the movie’s wit and elegance. It’s all downhill and back in time from there, when Nick and his somewhat estranged friend Adam (John Cusack: 2012, Igor) take their asshole pal Lou (Rob Corddry: W., Semi-Pro) away for a weekend to cheer him up after his accidental attempt at suicide — this is probably supposed to be funny, too, at least until later it’s meant to be seen as a sentimental indication of how much Lou hates his life. They return to a place where they once had a great time, back in high school, a ski resort where all sorts of teenaged partying was to be had in the 1980s. Too much alcohol and a short-circuited hot-tub control panel later, they are back in 1986, where everyone is wearing neon-colored spandex and listening to Poison and Culture Club and doesn’t know what email is.

Hot Tub feels no need to bother with any pretense of plausibility to its fundamental notion, which is fine… but it doesn’t seem to understand that with such great storytelling power — back in time? awesome! — comes great responsibility to tell a tale that uses that fundamental notion in some way that justifies it. Instead, it takes, at every potential crossroad, the easiest and meanness way out it can. Lou’s glee every time he believes he’s going to witness a terrible accident the disfiguring results of which he saw in 2010 could be the most disgusting aspect of the film, even beyond its rampant misogyny and homophobia. And is there ever any doubt who will turn out to be the father that Adam’s nephew Jacob (Clark Duke), along for the ride, never knew? This subplot is the only beautiful thing about Hot Tub, in how it demonstrates the sheer laziness of the screenwriters, as well as director Steve Pink (Accepted). A slightly anachronistic reference to 21 Jump Street (which would not debut on TV till 1987) is forgivable, but how, by all the Time Lords hold holy, could Jacob be 20 years old in 2010 — as we’re told he is — and have been conceived during this weekend in 1986? It wouldn’t have made one whit of difference to anything if Jacob were 23 or 24 years old. But that would have involved the filmmakers’ attention to what they were doing, which is clearly not at all of interest to them.

This is all far more disappointing than it would otherwise have been were John Cusack not involved… and he’s not just a star but a producer of this dreck. Does he not remember Lili Taylor telling him, in 1989’s Say Anything… that “the world is full of guys. Be a man. Don’t be a guy”? Hot Tub Time Machine has guy — immature, juvenile, adolescent guy — all over it.

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