– Summary –
Director : Steve Pink
Year Of Release : 2010
Principal Cast : John Cusack, Clark Duke, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Lizzy Caplan, Chevy Chase, Lyndsy Fonesca, Crispin Glover.
Approx Running Time : 90 Minutes
Synopsis: Four men are transported back in time via a faulty ski resort Hot Tub to 1986, where they discover that they are able to change their futures and rectify their personal problems. Naturally, historical comedy ensues, as our heroes soon discover that changing time isn’t as easy as you might think.
What we think : Super cool premise, spoiled by a dearth of humour and a script peppered with unnecessary profanity. John Cusack only barely acquits himself, while the rest of the cast seem mired in useless, repetitive and unfunny gags and “comedic dialogue” bordering on dreadful. A lack of energy behind the camera robs the film of much needed appeal.
You know how you see a film trailer, and it’s quite funny and appealing, yet when you watch the film you learn they’ve stuck all the funny stuff in the trailer anyway? Hot Tub Time Machine is exactly like that. All the funny stuff is in the trailer. A one-joke film, about four guys transported back to 1986 via a malfunctioning hot tub, the movie tries somehow to be a sassy screw-ball comedy (even including Chevy Chase in its cast roster) but ends up being an uneven, often overly crass mess devoid of heart and soul. The main characters are all marginally awful, the script littered with F-words that do nothing to further the “comedy”, and the narrative is devoid of anything approaching even the most rudimentary logic and common sense. Hot Tub Time Machine is less about quality, and more about steamrolling the viewer with an endless cavalcade of “adult” gross-out gags (pulling a set of car keys out of a dogs bum? Quality this ain’t!) and half-cooked character arcs.
Adam (John Cusack) is recently separated, his wife leaving him with an empty house and a nerdy, computer-addicted nephew living in his basement. Nick (Craig Robinson) is a lowly pet-doctor (I’d hardly say veterinarian) who deals with snobby clientele while being hen-pecked by his wife. Lou (Rob Corddry), who appears to try and commit suicide, is a borderline psychopath with alcoholism and masculinity issues. They’re old friends, although we soon learn that they’ve drifted apart due to their own personal issues. After Lou’s suicide bid, they decide to take a holiday to the ski-resort town of Kodiak Valley, a place they spent memorable time during their formative years, and somewhere they feel can bring them back together. So off they go, together with Adam’s nephew Jacob (Clark Duke, from Kick-Ass) to Kodiak Valley, only to find that it’s now a run-down ghost-town, rather than the vibrant resort village they knew decades earlier. Rather than return home, they decide to make the most of things, and arrive at their destination; the old room they stayed in back in 1986, where they did drugs, rocked out to Poison, and hooked up with random girls. That evening, they hop into their rooms hot-tub, and accidentally spill some energy drink on the controls. The next morning, they wake to discover they’ve somehow been transported back to 1986, and their outward appearance (cleverly done in the rooms massive bathroom mirror) made to suit. Jacob, who wasn’t even born in 1986, remains the same. The expected time-travel shtick, most of which has been done before in many other films, starts here.
I scratch my head at times with films like this: films which substitute wit for vulgarity, a problem which seems to have grown more and more prevalent with each passing year of Hollywood output. Rather than rely on dialogue and the ability of the actors to deliver a performance worthy of laughing at, we’re expected to appreciate a litany of F-bombs and references to body functions, sexual positions and the ability of men to insult each other. While it may appeal to those of limited comedic intellect, to the rest of us it grows tiresome quite quickly. John Cusack, an actor who never quite made it to “leading man” status no matter how hard he tried, is about the only saving grace here, his character being the most empathetic of all four leads. While his character is pretty rubbish, Cusack elevates it with a naturalistic performance in his usual verbose style. Craig Robinson does his best approximation of the late Bernie Mac, as the hen-pecked black guy with dreams of a music career. Robinson isn’t a patch on Mac, however, although some of his lines are pretty hilarious. Clark Duke isn’t really up to the challenge of acting alongside his co-stars, especially alongside Cusack, and his role is limited to a list of anachronistic time-displacement jokes. But the main problem I have with the film is the role of Rob Corddry, as Lou, the belligerent, self-obsessed and arrogant “best friend” whose bark is way larger than his bite. Corrdy delivers a performance one can only describe as “shouty”, a one note histrionic character with no redeeming characteristics whatsoever. I’ll admit to not really having much time for the films Corddry’s been in, since they’re mainly blokey-gross-out types (like Blades of Glory, Failure To Launch, and Old School) but if his performance here is anything to go by, I certainly don’t find him funny.
The rest of the cast is peppered with quality talent, with the likes of Chevy Chase being grossly underutilised as some sort of weird approximation of Doc Brown in Back To the Future (or, perhaps more similar to Don Knotts in Pleasantville), as the hot-tub’s “repairman”, who vanishes after imparting a variety of uselessly cryptic instructions to our heroes. Eternal weirdo Crispin Glover does his best… weirdo character, as a bellhop with a future involving losing one arm, a fact that causes delight in Lou as he waits to see how it happens. This running gag is overused, and Corddry isn’t a good enough comic to make it work well enough each time. The female cast are okay, with Cloverfiend actress Lizzy Caplan as a romantic interest for Cusack, and Kick-Ass actress Lyndsy Fornesca as Adam’s past-heartbreak girlfriend. Caplan’s role is badly written and feels forced into the script by a studio desperate to have some sort of “genuine” emotional content, although the actress does her best she’s unable to generate any emotion from the audience. Fornesca is suitably hot and ditzy, as the generic 80’s girlfriend, more obsessed with looks and music than an actual relationship.
Director Steve Pink, whose credits include co-writing the Cusack films Grosse Point Blank and High Fidelity, directs this film like he’s driving a tank; there’s no subtlety to it at all. The films screw-ball humour is lost amongst rapid editing and badly executed camera angles. An innate inability to generate any connection with the audience leaves Hot Tub scrambling to keep it’s rapid-fire joke delivery and self aware irreverence coming as fast as possible, if only to distract us from the complete lack of point to it all. Is it a film about characters growing from their shallow, self obsessed (or self destructive) paths? Or is it simply a chance to allow the old “going back in time” jokes, like cassette-playing Walkmans and the fact that Michael Jackson is still black, as well as the tried and true “email? What’s that?” material to be trotted out yet again? Whatever the point of Hot Tub Time Machine is, it’s well and truly lost in the vulgar dialogue and half-stories shoved into the film like stocking stuffers. Any moral or ethical lesson in the film is pummelled into non-existence by Pink’s inability to create a genuinely amusing, coherent narrative that either entertains or informs.
Ostensibly, Hot Tub Time Machine will entertain only at the lowest level of intelligence, and anyone looking for clever use of “time travel” based humour should look at classics like Back To The Future, or even to body-swap stuff like Freaky Friday, for examples of this kind of genre working well. Hot Tub is a beer and pizza flick, and you need to be slightly inebriated to find a lot of what’s in this film funny; the rest is simply mediocre scripting and self-indulgent “comedy” that makes Adam Sandler look like Robin Williams. Skip it, and watch Back To The Future instead.