Review: Hot Tub Time Machine

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Hot Tub Time Machine

I am a big fan of the 80s -- not as a retro fan, I still own all of the Duran Duran, the Smiths, and U2 vinyl albums I bought on their release dates. I was 22 years old in 1986, and would go "clubbing" dressed like Madonna in "Lucky Star." I loved John Hughes films, but my first film crush was on John Cusack as Walter "Gib" Gibson in The Sure Thing (1985). What could be better than a trip back to my favorite era than Hot Tub Time Machine starring and produced by Cusack himself, especially with Steve Pink (Grosse Pointe Blank, High Fidelity) as director?

Hot Tub Time Machine begans with three buddies dealing with their own personal misery in their early forties, and wistful for the dreams of their youth in the 1980s. Adam (John Cusack) comes home to find that his girlfriend has moved out. Nick (Craig Robinson) is married, but his job at a dog-grooming salon is far from the musical career he had desired when he was young. Adam and Nick's friend Lou (Rob Corddry) is at rock-bottom -- he's a divorced alcoholic who is on a path to self-destruction.

After Lou nearly kills himself, his buddies decide to cheer him up by taking him on a weekend getaway. Joined by Adam’s twenty-something nephew Jacob (Clark Duke) who lives in his basement, the pals decide to revisit the scene of their most memorable debauchery on the slopes and partying hard. Once they arrive, they find that the once thriving ski town is now boarded up with very few visitors and rundown ski lodge. However, a dip in a hot tub truly takes them back to their youth -- to 1986, complete with neon dayglo clothing, parachute pants, and leg warmers.

Hot Tub Time Machine not only contains several references to classic 80's movies -- Red Dawn, Back to the Future, and The Karate Kid, most notably -- but also includes several subtly placed homages to movies Cusack was involved in, including Better Off Dead and Sixteen Candles. Chevy Chase has a small role as the hot tub repairman, and Crispin "McFly" Glover is a pleasant surprise as the ski lodge bellhop. The bully fratboy cliches that were prevalent in Karate Kid and Revenge of the Nerds seem comically absurd nowadays.

The acting and character development in this film is a bit uneven, most surprisingly from John Cusack. It's not really clear what his character Adam does professionally -- what was the potential that he didn't live up to? -- or what he did or didn't do to cause his girlfriend to leave him. Clark Duke is genuinely understated and underused as the nephew who just wants to keep his uncle out of trouble, and not interested in the party scene. Instead he is the brunt of vicious jokes by Lou, played brilliantly by Rob Corddry as the guy that you just love to hate. He's miserable, and has no respect for himself or others, especially women. As horrible as his personality is and the demands that he places on his buddies, Lou is the person who undergoes the biggest transformation of all, although he's still morbidly obsessed with witnessing a gruesome accident that he knows will happen. I'm most conflicted by Lou and how his life plays out -- is he a good guy who really does the right thing? -- and that's what makes his character most intriguing.

Hot Tub Time Machine is first and foremost a buddy movie, in the vein of The Hangover but not quite up to its level. I know a lot of guys that loved the raunchy and visual humor, but personally I thought it was excessive. This movie makes the "uncensored" version of American Pie look like High School Musical. Be prepared for sexism where all but one female is depicted as being an airhead and promiscuous, and for scatological humor with all body fluids represented.

Despite the strength of Corddry's performance and favorite songs and films of the 80's, I wouldn't recommend Hot Tub Time Machine. If you are feeling nostalgia for the 80's that is less stereotypical with strong female roles, has more substance, and a better soundtrack, then check out Skateland when it hits theaters.