I’m all for dumb fun. But the warmed-over Hot Tub Time Machine forgets it takes smarts to do stupid right. Just look at the comic roadkill so far this year: The Bounty Hunter, Valentine’s Day, Cop Out, Tooth Fairy, When in Rome, The Spy Next Door and Our Family Wedding. And ahead is MacGruber (from an already threadbare SNL skit), Date Night (an Out-of-Towners retread Tina Fey and Steve Carell squeezed in on hiatus from their sitcoms), The Back-Up Plan (J. Lo does Knocked Up) and Death at a Funeral (a Brit farce re-spun in black by Chris Rock and Tracy Morgan). The lack of comic imagination is obvious just from the trailers.
When did Hollywood stop making an effort to come up with something even remotely original? Hot Tub Time Machine, with its baldfaced attempt to send The Hangover back to the future, illustrates the clone mechanism that’s killing movie comedy.
Check the premise: how about three thirtysomething amigos — manic Lou (Rob Corddry), married Nick (Craig Robinson) and recently dumped Adam (John Cusack) — going back in time? Not in a DeLorean like in Back to the Future. That would be stealing. But in a hot tub left over from a skeevy ski lodge. And how about adding Eighties icon Chevy Chase as the tub-repair dude? For teens, you have Adam take along his nephew Jacob (Clark Duke). Why? So Jacob can meet his horny mom, just like Michael J. Fox’s Marty McFly did, and play incest for yuks. To keep the Future riffs going, bring in Crispin Glover, McFly’s dad, this time as a one-armed bellhop.To be fair, Glover — armed or not — is one of the film’s rare, unalloyed pleasures.
The concept is that the three guys yearn for a time when they were horny and perpetually stoned. That would be 1986, when another time-travel movie came out, Peggy Sue Got Married. It’s a shamelessly borrowed setup. But it could still be fun. At least I hoped. Director Steve Pink co-scripted two of Cusack’s best movies, Grosse Pointe Blank and High Fidelity. But Pink goes way too broad with the screenplay partly credited to Sean Anders and John Morris, who lift a gay-panic joke out of their own She’s Out of My League.
Hot Tub Time Machine should have been better than this. It could have been poignant, with these underachievers both eager and afraid to change their lives by screwing with the space-time continuum. Cusack’s dragged-in romance with Lizzy Caplan doesn’t help a movie in which the gross-out joke trumps the jones to go deeper. It’s a kick to watch Corddry go nuts (“Let’s invent Girls Gone Wild!”) and Robinson wow a 1980s crowd by singing the Black Eyed Peas. But if all that separates two generations is the iPod and the Internet, this tub is drained, leaving a movie that’s fitfully funny instead of memorably so.
Audiences born after 1990 may scratch their heads at the 1980s-movie shout-outs, from Real Genius to Cusack’s own Better Off Dead (“I want my $2”). And those old enough to remember two John Hughes gems from 1986, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Pretty in Pink, may wonder where the heart went. I’ve been told that failure to get totally in sync with Hot Tub Time Machine means you’re dead inside. Wrong. That’s the movie‘s problem.