There is nothing sadder than an excellent premise that fails to pan out. When I first saw the trailer for “Hot Tub Time Machine,” I was psyched. Like, more psyched than I should probably admit in print. My love for John Cusack is purely irrational; Craig Robinson is one of the best overlooked comedians in America, and Rob Corddry’s performances are always a tutorial in unadulterated mania. The director, Steve Pink, wrote “High Fidelity” and “Grosse Pointe Blank.”
And, for the love of all that’s holy, it’s called “Hot Tub Time Machine.” It’s about a hot tub that takes three unhappy middle-aged men and drops them at a ski resort in 1986. Crispin Glover plays a bellhop who at some point might lose his arm. How can you lose?
Written by: Josh Heald, Sean Anders, John Morris
Starring: John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson
The three men (Cusack, Robinson and Corddry) are old friends who’ve drifted away from each other, and from their original dreams of greatness. When Lou, Corddry’s character, ends up in the hospital, they decide to return to the ski lodge of their youth. Their room has a hot tub. They have a night of debauchery. They pass out in said hot tub and wake up in 1986.
There’s the usual butterfly effect plot, but this movie is a lot less “Back to the Future” and a lot more…well every 80s frat comedy you’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. There’s the evil ski patrol who wants to ruin their good time, the bubble-headed ski bunnies with big hair. Again I ask, how can you lose?
Indeed, there are some wonderful moments. Robinson is the heart of the picture, gracefully sidestepping the obvious comic styling for his patented soulfulness and bone-dry delivery. Chevy Chase, who’s been doing the best work of his career on NBC’s “Community,” is hysterical and delightfully creepy as a hot tub repair man begat by the universe. And in perhaps the funniest scene in the film, two of the main characters lose a bet and are expected to perform fellatio on each other. The ensuing mayhem manages to demonstrate the incredible anxiety these men feel about their own sexuality without devolving into homophobia. It’s a gross-out scene, but it’s the meaning behind it that makes it so damn funny.
But despite some serious laughs, the movie is not nearly as funny as it should have been. Rob Corddry’s angry crazy man schtick gets extremely old after the 17th time he screams and throws a beer bottle out the window. There’s also something weirdly unpolished about the script; it seems as if the actors were simply given a rough outline of what they were supposed to say. Sometimes this kind of improvisation works beautifully, but here it simply seems clunky and rambling; for every great line, there are five that fall completely flat. And despite the ridiculous concept and hilarious title, there’s really nothing noteworthy here. It didn’t offend my senses, but I certainly didn’t fall in love either.
I have a sneaking suspicion that the filmmakers assumed they could just coast on a really fun and wild idea. But once you look past the glow of the hot tub time machine, you realize there’s really nothing below the surface.