Recently, on "30 Rock", Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) and her date (Michael Sheen) exit a movie theater. We catch them in mid discussion. "You have a problem with the science of "Hot Tub Time Machine"?" Liz asks sarcastically. This is a funny line because the mechanics of the time travel in this film, how they get to the late 80s and back again are so stupid, even this makes us laugh. The time travel isn't the point. "Hot Tub Time Machine" is a funny, dumb, nonsensical movie designed to do nothing but make us laugh.
It is difficult to not like the new film. From the corny title (which perfectly summarizes the film by the way) to the actors who seem to be having the time of their lives playing these characters, to the story itself, which is extremely ribald and raunchy, just about everything in this John Cusack film works. In fact, there seems to be so much crammed into the film, you have to sort of admire the filmmakers for their 'kitchen sink' approach to comedy. No, I'm not kidding. This is a very funny movie and the rare example of a comedy that works more than it doesn't. For every joke that doesn't work, three do. Usually, the ratio is the opposite, if we're lucky.
Adam (John Cusack) returns home to find his girlfriend has moved out and taken most of her possessions with her. His younger nephew, Jacob (Clark Duke, "Accepted", "Kick-Ass") lives in the basement, afraid to venture out into the world. Adam gets a call from Nick (Craig Robinson, TV's "The Office"), a former singer who now runs a fledgling music studio with his wife. Their old friend, Lou (Rob Cordry ("Blades of Glory", "Semi-Pro", "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart") is in the hospital and may have tried to commit suicide. Both go visit and quickly decide a to an old ski resort they visited as teenagers is just the ticket to get everyone moving and feeling alive again. Once there, they find the place is a pit, but a strange janitor (Chevy Chase) is trying to keep things going. They head to the hot tub and start drinking. Before long, a strange combination of fluids and circumstances allows them to travel back in time to the mid 80s when they were kids. But they also realize they have to tread carefully and repeat everything they did back on that fateful night. If they don't, they could change things in the present. But of course, none of them is happy, so the possibility of changing things begins to prove too seductive.
Once the reunited friends, and Adam's nephew, get settled in and realize the place they have remembered for so many years is now a dump, they try to enjoy their time together and are eager to try the hot tub. When they realize it is in need of a major cleaning, they back away. But the mysterious handyman (played by Chevy Chase) sets things right. Soon, they are diving into the hot tub, drinking copious amounts of booze and energy drinks and enjoying themselves immensely. An incomprehensible event sends the hot tub time machine hurting back to the 80s and the three older men soon realize they are re-experiencing the greatest night of their lives. They all look like their late teen selves, but we see their middle aged personas. They've been given a "do-over" but have to work against their inner-self. Do they try to keep everything the same, to maintain the current status of their lives, lives they all hate? Or do they try to change things and use their knowledge of the forthcoming two decades to change and, hopefully, improve their lives?
Produced by John Cusack and directed by Steve Pink ("Accepted"), "Hot Tub" joins the growing list of comedies designed to generate laughs with gross out humor. And it's funny. Expect at least one character to barf and at least one character to be barfed on. That is the humor level referenced throughout the film.
And if that were all there is, it would be a funny but forgettable film. But because they also inject some genuine humor, some jabs at life in the 80s and some genuine emotion, the film becomes even better and more memorable.
I want to take a moment to offer an appreciation of John Cusack. Cusack has a long and fruitful career both behind and ahead of him. The reason for this is because he has been able to balance appearances in silly blockbusters ("2012"), appearances that only serve to improve the film, with starring roles in more personable, quirky and enjoyable films. From "Say Anything" to "Gross Point Blank", the criminally underrated "Identity" to the subtle horror film "1408", he is always interesting. Even in the terrible, terrible film "The Ice Harvest", he manages to make his character watchable, abating some of the growing dread you experience as you sit through the film trying to understand how this piece of crap ever got made in the first place.
In "Hot Tub", Cusack plays the most normal character, the one with the goals we can most easily identify with. Because of that, he becomes the center of the story, but he is also the least interesting because he is the least outrageous. He is almost, but not quite, the straight man. But without him, the film wouldn't work.
Rob Cordry, on the other hand, plays the off the wall character. Lou is ready and willing for anything and to do anything. As soon as they arrive at the ski resort, he begins looking for possible hook-ups. When they return to the 80s, and he now has the libido of a teenager, these desires only increase.
Craig Robinson plays Duke, a man who now owns a recording studio and works part time as a dog groomer, giving you an indication of how well his business is doing. His big dream as a teenager was to become a singer, so when they return to the 80s, he realizes he can start over. He accomplishes this in a funny, funny way.
Clark Duke plays Jacob, Adam's nephew, who joins them for the ride. He is funny because he provides a sort of running commentary as the conscience of the group. He is also more intricately involved in the story than you might imagine.
"Hot Tub Time Machine" takes necessary jabs at everything "80s". The guys' main nemesis is a guy named Blaine (Sebastian Stan), the leader of the Ski Patrol, complete with blonde feathered hair. Craig Robinson's 80's persona has the high, sculpted hair made popular by Kid of Kid 'N' Play. Everyone seems to be using drugs. These moments are fun, but not the best thing about the film and they become a little overworked after a while.
The best thing about "Hot Tub Time Machine" is the fact the filmmakers made the film at all. It is such a preposterous story, executed so tongue in cheek that I would find it difficult for anyone to not enjoy themselves.
But beware. The film is rated R and there are some very good reasons for that. But don't let that scare you off. In a way, it only helps to make the science of the Hot Tub Time Machine more believable.