Before we consider this movie’s merit, let us all reflect on the fact that there are few greater titles in the annals of movie history than . We know immediately what to expect… people will travel in time, and the circumstances will be completely irreverent. Not a single serious moment could possibly permeate a movie such as this, right?
Well, actually this is not true. The greatest surprise of is how thoroughly depressing the circumstances are surrounding our heroes are. The primary trio are friends who have seen the dreams of their 1980s heyday long since fade away, having found the mistakes of their past resulting in less than optimal present.
Nick (Craig Anderson, ) works as a dog groomer, his dreams of making it big in the music business long since faded. Adam (John Cusack) has let “the one who got away” result in a endless parade of doomed relationships and perpetual bachelorhood. Lastly, Lou (Rob Cordry) still holds onto a youthful style of dress and behavior with a vigor that can only be born of desperation.
It is Lou, crashing his classic car into his garage while scream-singing the Motley Crue ballad “Home Sweet Home”, who sets the events in motion, having nearly poisoned himself while revving his engine in time with the music. The visual of Lou trying to rev his engine while not going anywhere isn’t lingered upon, but it is a perfect metaphor for the circumstances surrounding these three guys’ lives.
Out of guilt, these friends who have drifted apart set about to cheer up Lou by taking back to a ski resort that was their base of all the good times of their youth. With Nick’s nephew (Clark Duke) in tow, they arrive at the resort, finding it has fallen into cat-infested despair.
All of this happens before the titular hot tub time machine makes its appearance. That the movie takes its time before plunging back into the visual clichés of the 1980s is intentional, and works greatly in the movie’s favor. Comedies almost always play at the highest level when there is a level of personal recognition in the foibles of the participants. We laugh at Rob Cordry’s Lou not simply because he is a huge jerk, but because we’ve all known someone like him.
As it turns out, the day in 1986 that our heroes return to was a pivotal day for all of them. Even Clark Duke’s Jacob has an investment in the proceedings, as the day was the one in which he was conceived, with his body flickering in and out of the world as potentially time changing events occur.
Meanwhile, the older middle-aged men find themselves inhabiting their much younger bodies and find it very difficult not to use their knowledge of the future to impact the present.
If the film has a major flaw, it is in its attempt to push the R-rated envelope with vomit, blood and other fluids making many appearances. The funniest moments in the film have much more to do with the dialogue and situations than in these checkmark sight gags that often feel tacked on.
Other than this, Hot Tub Time Machine does what is trying to do very well, which is make an absurd comedy tinged with regret, infused not with nostalgia for the 1980s as so many films are but utter contempt for the facetiousness of much of the decade.
Usually, the lack of substance of much of the 1980s is seen as a welcome escape, and to see it seen as the opposite light is refreshing. Usually we look to our past with nostalgia because of the people we knew, not because of the fashions, and it is nice to see a film that makes that same observation. Also, the film is frequently very funny, which doesn’t hurt.