- Rated R
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All photos © MGM
Reviewed by David Medsker
he casting of a movie can lead to arguments of the chicken-egg variety, where you can end up punishing an actor for taking a role that is in fact tailor-made for them. “Hot Tub Time Machine” may ultimately serve as this theory’s litmus test. The script is good enough that it would have survived without the casting of three icons of the decade that it revisits, but man, is it better for having John Cusack, Crispin Glover and Chevy Chase in it. Some will compare it to “The Hangover” in that they’re both outrageous R-rated comedies, but the similarities end there; “Hot Tub Time Machine” plays a different game, opting for managed chaos over absurdity.
Cusack is Adam, reeling from the breakup with an angry ex. His two onetime best friends Lou (Rob Corddry) and Nick (Craig Robinson) aren’t doing much better, and a near-death scare to Lou inspires the three to relive their youth at a ski lodge they used to frequent years before, with Adam’s nephew Jacob (Clark Duke) coming along for the ride. After an alcohol-fueled evening in their cabin’s hot tub, they wake up and discover that the hot tub is a portal, and they’ve traveled back to 1986. When a mysterious hot tub repairman (Chase) promises to fix the tub – but advises them to stay on course until he does – Adam, Nick and Lou try to recreate the weekend’s events to the best of their abilities, though each has his reasons for deviating from the path. Jacob, meanwhile, is just trying to make sure that he’s still conceived.
The ‘80s movie in-jokes are fast and furious here, some obvious (“The Karate Kid,” “Back to the Future”), and some sly (“Sixteen Candles,” “Better Off Dead”). Wisely, the movie does not lean on these movies to tell its story, but uses them as accents instead. The physical jokes get many of the big laughs – the best of the bunch is the running gag involving the bellhop Phil (a very funny Glover) – but the dialogue packs a bigger punch, which is fitting given the thinking-man nature of the four leads. Indeed, as funny as Corddry and Robinson are – Cusack is, per usual, the straight man to the insanity around him – Duke is the movie’s secret weapon, milking every ounce of funny out of that brilliantly bored delivery of his.
Pity, then, that the script views the love interests as second-class citizens. Lizzy Caplan, Collette Wolfe and Lyndsy Fonseca all have their moments in the sun – and each makes the most of her opportunity – but it’s clear that they are just cogs in the time travel machine. There are also some consistency issues, namely Jacob’s age (he’s only 20, yet the movie goes back 24 years in time) and how Nick’s band in 1986 is able to play a song from the future that he never had time to teach them. Granted, watching the band play the song is fun, but the laugh is dishonest; if you’re going to dance with the devil that is a time travel plot, make sure to dot the i’s and cross the t’s.
It may sound ridiculous to call a movie called “Hot Tub Time Machine” cerebral, but there are subtleties in the character development that most modern-day R-rated comedies cannot be bothered with. It’s a pleasant surprise, and while the story may have a few holes that are inherent with time travel plots, it’s grounded in a way that future hard-R moviemakers would be wise to repeat, if they can.
Unrated Edition DVD Review:
The DVD release of "Hot Tub Time Machine" is a surprisingly skimpy affair. There are 11 minutes of deleted or extended scenes – Rob Corddry's dick joke montage is the best of the bunch – and an unrated version of the film, which is about a minute longer than the theatrical cut. The only additions are dialogue, and not even racy dialogue at that; just random banter. There is no featurette or audio commentary, which is a shame, since a movie with a title that spectacular surely comes with some great stories from the people who made it. You won't find them here, though.