Movie Review: Hot Tub Time Machine

In his review of “Shutter Island,” the New Yorker’s Anthony Lane drew upon a quote from Umberto Eco: “Two cliches make us laugh but a hundred cliches move us, because we sense dimly that the cliches are talking among themselves, celebrating a reunion.” Lane was using this to describe a totally different movie, but I think it fits even more perfectly into “Hot Tub Time Machine.”

“Hot Tub Time Machine” is the 1980s comedy made for 2010, both stylistically and literally. It begins in the modern day. The film’s anti-heros, three best friends who’ve hit some rocky times, are typical everyday schlubs. Adam (John Cusack) has to deal with both a recent breakup and his reclusive nephew (Clark Duke) who lives with him. Nick (Craig Robinson) is a burnt out musician, and Lou (Rob Corddry) is an alcoholic who has just hit rock bottom.
Well, the first half of the premise probably made this movie sound a little too serious. Just wait until you hear the next part. The four head up to a now decrepit ski resort to try and relive their glory days. After a night of too much to drink, the boys’ hot tub sends them back to the 1980s. There, they relive all the greatest moments of their life, and those they tried to totally forget about.
“Hot Tub Time Machine” can be described as a different kind of nostalgia. It’s a nostalgic tone that’s both a little mocking, and a little reminiscent. Unlike some other previous homage films such as “Black Dynamite,” “Hot Tub Time Machine” wouldn’t totally fit in as a film in the 1980s. It does contain everything we love about an 80s classic, but with the wisdom of someone living in the year 2010.
However, this isn’t to say that “Hot Tub Time Machine” doesn’t evoke its era well. When it does go back in time, it does everything it can to put you into the year 1986 from the music people listened to, to the kind of shoes they wore. Then, it crams in about a million different 80s movie cliches. There’s the upper class bully, the losing-your-virginity story, and of course, some anti-Communist paranoia. “Red Dawn” style.
It really does feel like all of these different cliches are having a reunion together. It could be that the writers, director, and actors were actually having a fun time with it all, or that this era of filmmaking had a little more depth than ever imagined. Maybe this was just an era where people were making films about the world they wished they lived in, rather than what it actually was.
Even for a film that’s unapologetically dirty (consider this a warning), there is still something very smart behind its stupidity. The film’s humor is a mix of gross out and tongue-in-cheek.
Perhaps the one moment in the film that could actually be described as brilliant comes after the characters have been transferred back to the 80s. Robinson remarks, “must be a…hot tub time machine.” Then he just stares at the camera. Not only have the filmmakers broken the fourth wall, but they’ve also managed to make fun of how films try to incorporate their titles into their dialogue while at the same time creating one of the best title tie-ins I’ve seen in a movie.
“Hot Tub Time Machine” would definitely have been a failure had it not been for a cast and crew who actually knows their way around the subject. I would like to point out that co-writer Sean Anders, who also wrote the awful “Sex Drive,” manages to succeed here by actually putting funny words on a page.
I think the cast really helped make the film even better. You can feel that they took control and made it their film as well. Corddry finally got the breakout role he deserved, and he’s certainly gotten the a-hole personality down well. Robinson always incorporates his smooth talking, but sometimes very angry, personality and turns it into laughs.
Then, of course, there’s Cusack. Here, Cusack seems to play a bit more of a demented version of Lloyd Dobler and any other romantic he played during the 80s. There’s something about his personality that is so endearing. Maybe it’s that he never seems happy yet he’s never a killjoy. I think it might be a little closer to his performance than “Better Off Dead” than in “Say Anything…” What I really want to say here is that I hope Cusack takes more roles like “Hot Tub Time Machine” and less like “2012.”
There is one thing I’ve thought about complaining about in “Hot Tub Time Machine.” However, I can’t bring myself to because it actually works here. That one thing is how much the premise resembles “The Hangover.” It’s also about the result of a night of debauchery and contains the same archetypal characters. But as long as this premise keeps working, I will keep seeing movies just like it. This premise might one day become the cliche to define the 2000s.
“Hot Tub Time Machine” broke the fourth wall in more ways than mentioned before. The sum of the film and its characters is not just homage to the films of the 80s, but rather both the characters and the filmmakers looking back at what that era meant. It fits the style of the 80s into the style of the present. Oh, and most importantly, it’s just the kind of film that you see, laugh at, and then keep laughing at long after it ends.
80s Movies That Likely Inspired Hot Tub Time Machine: Back to the Future, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, One Crazy Summer, The Breakfast Club, Say Anything…, Red Dawn, Sixteen Candles, Better Off Dead, Weird Science, Encino Man (Not 80s, but close enough)