John Cusack, Craig Robinson and Rob Corddry play friends who have become more estranged since their wild days of youth. The gang regroups after Corddry accidently tries to kill himself after using his car’s gas pedal like a drum pedal. Along with Clark Duke, Cusack’s nephew, they decide to return to their favorite ski resort from when they were kids. Disappointed that it’s practically abandoned, the four spend the night drinking heavily and ending up in 1986 thanks to a….hot tub time machine.
Unlike other films in this genre, all of the characters are well versed in time travel movies. They are constantly referencing movies like Back to the Future and Planet of the Apes in order to understand their situation. This is very fun when they try to predict when the grumpy bellhop (Crispin Glover) will lose his arm and how much that spacey hot tub technician (Chevy Chase) knows. The film isn’t interested in making a time travel mythology that makes a lot of sense. Almost every question in this movie can be answered by its title. “Why are they in their younger bodies?” “It’s a Hot Tub Time Machine.”
The movie is set mostly in the 80s and uses that tone to successfully create the atmosphere of an 80s comedy. Certain elements are very familiar and enjoyable like the preppy antagonists that think the heroes’ technology are from the Soviet Union. Cusack also had a good sense of humor considering all of the clever callbacks to the films that made him famous from this time.
Not every joke in the movie works. There are at least two instances when the gross-out humor is too much and some of that comes from Corddry being too over-the-top. With every joke that fails, there are two more that are really good. The chemistry between the four is really inspired. The way they bounce off each other believably establishes this long friendship through their comradery and annoyance with their actions. The first half hour is probably the strongest part of the movie because it’s just them goofing off before the plot really kicks off.
I say “kick off” but the plot is so light, it can almost evaporate. This is fine because the movie is consistently entertaining and never takes itself seriously. The motivations of the 80’s preppy guys are comically thin. There is no real threat of paradoxes or not being able to get back to the present. There is a major action that is too convenient in order to tie everything in the end; it’s jarring at first but, then again, to comment on the plot is almost nitpicking.
This movie doesn’t get everything right in terms of a buddy comedy like The Hangover did last year, but there is a lot of wit and likability. Especially from Cusack, Robinson, and Lizzy Caplan, who plays Cusack’s love interest. Wait don’t they have an almost 20 year age difference? It’s Hot Tub Time Machine.