With a gleefully straightforward title and a cast that finds John Cusack acting with some talented television actors (Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, Clark Duke), it seemed very possible that Hot Tub Time Machine could be 2010’s answer to 2009’s surprisingly hilarious The Hangover. Although Hot Tub Time Machine manages to find moments of inspired hilarity, too much of the film seems mired in R-rated clichés and jokes that probably seemed funnier on paper than in the movie.
The plot is about as straightforward as could be: Adam (Cusack) is having relationship problems. Nick (Robinson) hates his job and found out that his wife is cheating on him. Lou (Corddry) has just tried to kill himself but is too proud to admit it. Along with Adam’s nephew, Jacob (Duke), the group of friends travel to an old vacation spot from their youth to try and find out what’s going wrong in their lives.
After a night of drunken debauchery in a hot tub, however, the group finds themselves back in 1986, the proverbial “lost summer” of their youths. Unfortunately, most of the jokes then revolve around people from 2010 being stuck in 1986. Too many of the truly funny moments in the movie are shown in the trailers, and most of the others actually involve supporting characters played by Chevy Chase and Crispin Glover.
Part of the problem with the movie is that it occasionally mistakes vulgarity and crassness with humor. Vulgarity can be funny. The Hangover managed to push some of the boundaries of the R-rating while also being consistently hilarious. Hot Tub Time Machine occasionally reaches this balance, but all too often I was wondering if the characters really needed to use another drug reference or homophobic slur.
Speaking of homophobia, most R-rated comedies seem to have it in some shape or form. It consistently bothers me, rarely results in making a situation more humorous, and often is used in place of clever dialogue. Hot Tub Time Machine was not necessarily using it more than other comedies, but it seemed completely unnecessary. I understand that some of these characters are meant to be the jerk that you’re friends with even though they find using the word “gay” pejoratively to be funny, but that doesn’t excuse multiple characters letting it fly for no reason. It isn’t funny and, at times, makes me dislike parts of the movie.
Not everything in Hot Tub Time Machine is offensive and unfunny. John Cusack and Craig Robinson have their moments, and the story arc involving Crispin Glover is consistently hilarious. You could fault the film for very loosely following “rules” for time travel, but raunchy comedies rarely bog themselves down in logic or details. If you come in expecting it to be as bad as schlock like Date Movie, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Hot Tub Time Machine‘s biggest sin, therefore, is not that it was unfunny (it did have many hilarious moments), but rather that it squandered a premise and cast that is capable of so much more. Many moments seemed to be bordering on riotous when they devolve into lazy depravity. With so many comedies effectively pushing the boundaries of the R-rated comedy in the past few years, it seems unfortunate that Hot Tub Time Machine was not able to do the same.
Rating: 3 (out of 5) stars