With John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson. Rated R for strong crude and sexual content, nudity, drug use and pervasive language. 99 minutes.
There’s an idea for a good comedy in HOT TUB TIME MACHINE. Perhaps someday someone will make that movie: a bunch of middle-aged guys get to travel back to their 20s and try to correct the mistakes of their youth. Unfortunately, the actual movie is buried under fart jokes, bad scripting, and just plain bad taste. Even checking your brain at the door may not make this any better.
Adam (John Cusack) has just finished another unsuccessful romantic relationship. Nick (Craig Robinson) gave up a promising singing career for his wife, and is now working at a dog spa and discovering that his wife is cheating on him. Lou (Rob Corddry) is a loser who may have attempted suicide. Adam and Nick decide to take Lou on a ski vacation to the place they went in their 20s. They take along Adam’s nephew Jacob (Clark Duke) for a plot point that doesn’t pay off until late in the film.
Once they get to the hotel, it’s a ramshackle disappointment, the whole town having run down over the last 25 years. However when they get into the hot tub and begin drinking, an accident turns it into a time machine and they wake up in 1986, bad hair, loud clothes and all. A mysterious repairman (Chevy Chase) warns them that they must not change anything while they’re in the past.
What follows is a dull rehash of gags that were old when they appeared in the teen sex comedies of the ’80s. We get jokes involving bodily waste, semen, and vomit. The only thing they seem to have overlooked is ear wax and sweat, but they will probably appear as “additional scenes” on the DVD. We also get tasteless jokes about John Lennon’s murder, the bellhop (Crispin Glover) having his arm amputated, and Jacob witnessing his mother having sex. The mystery isn’t that it took three credited writers to come up with this material – it’s that they could find three writers willing to take credit for it.
Even if we could upgrade what passes for humor here, the story makes no sense. We’re told that the characters mustn’t change the past. Then when things change, they don’t really change. So the message seems to be that we’re locked into our fates. Then characters begin changing things and things change on their own, and it doesn’t disrupt things. So what were those warnings all about?
One can argue that this is “only” a comedy and one shouldn’t think too much about it. However there’s a difference between not thinking too much and not thinking at all. Why do the characters look like their present day selves to us and to each other but like their young selves to everyone else? Who knows? Who cares?
This is a thoughtless, not terribly funny comedy. It could have been an entertaining and even poignant film, but instead will leave those unfortunate enough to see it longing for their own “Hot Tub Time Machine” so they can go back in time and prevent themselves from buying tickets for it.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Brookline.