I was REALLY REALLY looking forward to this movie. Besides having one of the best titles of the year, Hot Tub Time Machine’s trailers had me completely sold, its a time travel movie, and its a time travel movie set in the 80s!! Its almost hard to fuck up a premise like this, right? Well, apparently, the filmmakers figured out a way to at least not entirely succeed with this film. Although it contains a lot of great laughs, the movie sacrifices compelling characters and a good storyline for jokes. Overall, the Hot Tub Time Machine felt more like a series of skits strung together rather than a well-rounded fully-developed movie. Moreover, although the film probably contains every single pop cultural item from the 80s, it fails to actually convince me that the characters went back to the 80s. The 80s world here is more like a extreme parody of the 80s rather than an authentic recreation of the time period.

The plot is simple enough and its essentially a raunchy fratboy version of Back to the Future. After an apparent suicide attempt by one of them, a couple of friends decide to take a weekend vacation to a small ski resort they used to visit together back in the 80s. However, their youthful memories of the place are dashed when they discover the once grand resort has turned into a decrepit, nearly abandoned town struggling against hard economic times. However, after giving up any hope of a good trip, the guys make do with an outdoor hot tub that suddenly and mysteriously wakes to life. Unbeknownst to the guys, the tub is a time machine that takes them back to 1986. After they realize what year they are in, the guys determine that they will have to repeat the same things they did on the day they are transported to. Otherwise, their futures will be altered and thats apparently not good for anyone (even though for two of the guys, their lives have ended up totally sucking). Of course, this is easier said than done and you can probably figure out the rest of the story.

I love time travel movies and its the reason why I regard Back to the Future as my all-time favorite film. The idea of traveling in time and dealing with the repercussions of changing the past is a perennially novel idea that makes for great story material. Some films have dealt with time travel in a realistic, scientific fashion (see Primer for a great example of this) whereas others have had fun with it in a usually comedic fashion and without regard to the logics behind the concept (i.e. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure). I have enjoyed both approaches and would even go so far to say that few time travel films have disappointed me.

I guess there’s always an exception and Hot Tub Time Machine seems to be it. Although I wasn’t expecting the movie to strictly adhere to the rules of time travel, some of the logical inconsistencies in this film really annoyed me and they struck me as pure lazy screenwriting. For example, the guys never encounter their young selves in 1986, which many might be ok with, but I felt that was comic opportunity missed. Encountering their young selves would have made for more interesting and funny situations that I think the filmmakers should have used. Furthermore, when our characters look at themselves in the mirror, they see the younger version of themselves, but it seems that when they looked at each other they saw the modern version of themselves. This narrative device struck me as being more convenient to the filmmakers and their budget than being a logical outcome of the story. Finally, one of the members of the group is John Cusack’s character’s nephew who was not born as of 1986. Given how the characters appear as their young selves to everyone else, the kid should obviously not have existed when the gang traveled back in time. However, he remains in 1986 and the only sign of his inappropriate presence is that he unexplainably flickers from time to time. Considering the sophomoric nature of Hot Tub Time Machine, I’m probably nitpicking too much. However, there is a difference between writing material that falls within the parameters you establish for your story and writing material that merely serves a convenient purpose to resolve narrative problems in the story. The problems I’ve listed above fall within the latter category.

More than anything, Hot Tub Time Machine serves as a comedic showcase for the talents of Clark Duke (Michael Cera’s best friend), Craig Robinson, and Rob Corddry. All of them are very funny in this movie and if it wasn’t for them, I may have walked out of the movie. They provide constant laughs and the film practically feels like a stage for their jokes. I’ve never really seen Clark Duke and Rob Corddry before, but I have seen Craig Robinson before in Zack and Miri Make a Porno and this dude is one fucking funny individual. I felt a little bad for John Cusack because as much as I like him (besides, what is an 80s movie without John Cusack?), he is the least interesting and funniest character of the bunch. Coupled with his poorly written character, Cusack falls by the wayside here. One delightful surprise in Hot Tub Time Machine is the casting of Crispin Glover. I may have said this before in a previous review, but I am a HUGE Crispin Glover fan and I feel very fortunate to have seen Glover in 2 films in 1 month. His character as the chainsaw juggling bellhop is hilarious and as quirky and strange as only Glover can make it be.

As I state above, Hot Tub Time Machine fails to make you feel like you’re in 1986. The movie is chock full of everything from the 80s and there isn’t a minute that doesn’t contain an 80s song. However, despite all this, nothing feels authentic. The people fail to sound like they come from the era, a problem that sharply contrasts with the recently viewed (and reviewed) The Runaways, which takes place in the 70s and successfully manages to capture the time period. For all these faults, however, the movie’s comparisons between 80s and modern-era gadgets is funny and it shows what a long way we’ve come from the stone age of not having cell phones and the internet (how the hell I survived without our technology back then still amazes me).

So there you have it. A disappointing experience to be sure, Hot Tub Time Machine squanders a perfect opportunity to be The Hangover of 2010. Its a sitcom-ish effort that fails to utilize the comedic talents it has at hand. I surely wasn’t expecting an epic experience, but even the low threshold for satisfaction I set for this movie wasn’t achieved. Anyway, save your money this weekend and wait for this film on Blu-Ray instead.

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