Review: ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’

Sometimes a film comes along which really does do exactly what it says on the tin, and Hot Tub Time Machine is of such an ilk; its entire premise, pitch, plot, virtually everything, in fact, you’d want to know about it can be neatly surmised from its four word title.  If there were prizes for pithy, laconic titles, step forward Hot Tub Time Machine. 

Yes, there is indeed a hot tub, and yes, when four friends jump in it on a hedonistic skiing vacation, they find themselves magically transported back to the 1980s, and back to an earlier holiday they enjoyed as teenagers.  The poster quote is also concise and accurate: “The Hangover meets Back to the Future” is about right, though there’s less ruminative time travelling than the latter, and it’s far more stupid than the former.

Make no bones about it: this is a dumb film.  Granted, you’d never expect Fellini with a title like that.  But it needs to be said.  It’s low brow to such a point that your brow will be somewhere near your ankles.   Yet, like that dense friend who always inexplicably tags along, or an especially dim-witted dog rescued from a shelter, Hot Tub Time Machine has a kind of brainless charm that is immediately endearing.  There’s toilet humour, tasteless slapstick and sex jokes aplenty, but because it plays up to these elements so brazenly, the laughs are undemanding and flow freely.

Much of that charm comes from the four leads, who have a decent group dynamic and have been given free rein to indulge in a bit of Judd Apatow-esque improvisational riffing.  John Cusack as the comparative straight man holds things together ably, and both Clark Duke and Apatow alumni Craig Robinson give decent ensemble turns.

But by far the standout performance comes from Rob Corddry.  Having only thus far been a cameo player since leaving The Daily Show (where he was one of the better ‘fake news’ reporters), here Corddry gives a tour-de-force in gross-out comedy, immersing his first lead role with a heavy dose of chutzpah and an exceptional nose for the extreme.  Described in the film “like that friend who’s an asshole, and he’s our asshole”, Corddry is a riotously effective asshole; here’s hoping his lack of hair won’t preclude the comedy stardom he surely deserves.

As Corddry et al find themselves in their teenage incarnations of 1986, director Steve Pink exuberantly milks the eighties for every joke its worth (your eyes will bleed at the neon legwarmers on show).  Recent period films have attempted to depict their chosen eras with careful subtlety; here the era stereotyping is as subtle as a brick through a window.

Fortunately it’s not all quips about big mobile phones, and as you might imagine the main provenance of comedy comes from Pink’s unapologetic immaturity.  Expect set pieces in the form of plastic forks in eyes, strippers, hookers, hallucinogenic drugs and an ill-conceived fellatio-based bet between two male friends that treads a razor-thin line between hilarious and horrific.

The defiantly juvenile content might alienate those outside what is likely the target demographic – 18-35 year old white males – but in spite of all this the comedy is consistently funny, and there are enough decent gags to keep even supposedly mature viewers engaged.  The recurring gag from 80s hero Crispin Glover repeatedly coming within a hair’s breadth of losing his arm, as Corddry breathlessly cajoles him, gets the biggest laughs of the film.

It’s still an extraordinarily dumb film, and perhaps the point needs to be laboured.  Hot Tub Time Machine is populated by little more than idiotic, tasteless ‘guy’ humour; an absurd, nonsensical premise; a time-travel logic that makes sense in no known universe, and four chubby leads, one of whom is balding, at its epicentre.  But for an hour and a half of sheer unpretentious, unsophisticated, unadulterated belly laughs, you could do a lot worse than dipping your toes into this gleefully immature water.


A version of this review originally appeared on ObsessedWithFilm.com.

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