I wish John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, and Clark Duke could go back in time and salvage the title Hot Tub Time Machine. The movie doesn’t live up to it. Their Wellsian jacuzzi takes them to 1986—not even far enough to prevent this from being a rip-off of Back to the Future, which came out the year before. Maybe it was intended as an homage when the filmmakers cast Crispin Glover—George McFly—as a one-armed bellhop, but it’s just plain laziness when they throw in (throw up?) a subplot about a betting scheme or Robinson giving an ’80s audience a sneak peek at the Black Eyed Peas. Srsly. These must be high times for high concepts, but this comedy left me stoned in the wrong way: I knew what it felt like to win Shirley Jackson’s lottery.
Duke (of the Web series Clark and Michael) is entertaining as the nerdy 20-year-old who witnesses his own conception—even though he’s a few years early. (Either that or his mother suffered a horrifyingly protracted pregnancy. Not that the filmmakers betray much knowledge of or experience with female behavior.) Corddry, who gets the best lines—as well as the worst—works well to hide how one-note the jokes are. Blubbery Robinson is a pitch-perfect bawler when he chews out his no-good girlfriend—who’s nine at this point in history. But he’s yet another victim of that recent brah-medy staple: the dude who’s scarred from pussy-whipping. The self-hatred inherent in Robinson and Corddry’s roles isn’t satirical; it’s as if guys have lost a cosmic war between the genders, and this passive aggression is the menfolks’ only way to rattle its cage. The shtick isn’t even funny in a sad way anymore; it’s just pathetic. I’m not exactly sure what Cusack’s motives were. He’s listed as a producer, and gets top billing, yet he’s stuck playing the straight man—he’s not particularly funny, nor does he get his head wet in the serious subtext. Then again, middle-aged pathos wouldn’t really float in this tub’s brackish water.
Back in 2003—aged about 15—I wrote a comic about modern-day teenagers traveling back to 1985 via a Back to the Future D.V.D. featurette. I even made the same joke about Michael Jackson’s pigment. On the whole, it was pretty lame; but I ever-so hoped that something clever could come of the premise as executed by grown-ups. Instead, the resultant script could’ve been written over a weekend. It’s a hangover of The Hangover, which had itself binged on Will Ferrell comedies. I laughed a few times during H.T.T.M., but if I found a hot tub that would whirlpool me back to before I bought my tickets, I’d gladly take a dip. Hollywood has a knack for taking quirky ideas and focus-grouping them into oblivion; the setups keep getting weirder, but the jokes remain the same. If this movie were to reach 88 miles per hour, it’d be because the filmmakers were asleep at the wheel.