The one thing The Hangover did a year ago was show that you can take a wholly unoriginal story and give it an insane, manic energy with enough blue material to make Lenny Bruce blush to give you an inspired, hard R-rated comedy that succeeds on nearly every level. If anything it gave anyone with an experienced, if low profile, cast enough of a template to craft a comedy. Hollywood is nothing if not a place of repetition and replication, thus this year’s attempt at catching lightning in a bottle again is Hot Tub Time Machine..
With perhaps the worst title in recent memory, the film focuses on three friends. Lou (Rob Corddry) is a lifelong loser, always attempting to get rich via schemes. Adam (John Cusack) is an insurance salesman who has just been left by his girlfriend. His nephew Jacob (Clark Duke) lives in his basement and is the stereotypical computer dork that lives mainly online. Nick (Craig Robinson) gave up a budding music career for his adulterous wife. When Lou’s failed suicide attempt gets them together for the first time in years, they hatch a plan to brighten up Lou’s day: relive their teenage years at Kodiak Valley one more time. Finding the town has since failed, and the cabin they stayed in has gone into disrepair, the group ends up in a hot tub for a night of drinking and male bonding. Waking up in 1986 due to the hot tub’s time traveling properties, the group gets to relive their past as teenagers. Problems arise, however, when they realize that their actions now will change the present they live in (including Jacob’s existence, potentially).
It’s an interesting concept, for sure, but the film doesn’t have the sort of energy it needs and demands to be as consistently hilarious as it could be. There are plenty of “Hey look, it’s an over-sized 80s cell phone” kind of moments that are cheap gags as opposed to more developed ones. It’s a film that relies on lots of quick, easy jokes instead of more developed ones based on the situation. The film’s best humor generally involves Jacob’s potential existence, as he flickers in and out of existence comically (in the same way Marty McFly did in Back to the Future), but more developed humor is not this film’s niche. There are lots of avenues the film doesn’t explore, like changing your past or having to relive humiliating aspects of it, which the film glances over as opposed to developing further. Seeing a guy who’s done nothing with his life (Lou) given a second chance and contemplating changing it is a theme that isn’t explored upon for nothing more but cheap gags. There’s a grander theme that would elevate the film’s quality waiting to be explored and yet is completely ignored.
What’s interesting to see is John Cusack riffing on the sort of teen comedies that made him a star. Adam is a character we’d sort of expect a guy like Lloyd Dobler to end up becoming: a normal guy. Adam is a character everyone expected greatness out of as a teenager and wound up selling insurance in the suburbs; it’s interesting to see Cusack, who seemed to inhabit the young man destined for grandeur, as a hollowed out shell looking back on an ordinary life. In a way it’s a reflection of his career, as Cusack was a bigger box office draw as a teenager then he is now. Cusack was supposed to become a larger star then the others of his generation and now he while still has a higher profile, he’s not the sort of bankable leading man he was supposed to become.
He’s a character actor with a leading man’s profile and here he seems to embrace that; this is clearly a starring vehicle for him and yet he plays the straight man to a cast filled with veteran comedians. The one who stands out most is Corddry; while he is overused throughout the film, as Lou is a character we get quickly tired of, he has moments of inspired hilarity especially when anticipating a certain event that is teased throughout the film.
Hot Tub Time Machine finishes on a note intended to leave it as a one-off film, as opposed to a franchise, which is most appropriate. Steve Pink, who did the same thing with the wildly underrated Accepted, shows enough comedic chops to keep it interesting but Time Machine doesn’t have the sort of manic energy or consistent comedy to elevate it beyond slightly above average.
Director: Steve Pink Notable Cast: John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Clark Duke, Chevy Chase, Crystal Lowe, Crispin Glover Writer(s): Josh Heald, Sean Anders, John Morris
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.