Hot Tub Time Machine is a movie with the courage to ask, “Man, what happened to us?” and the honesty to answer, “Oh, that’s right: We came of age as acid-washed coke fiends during Reaganomics, heavy pastels and Poison concerts.” It’s a movie with the wisdom to remind us that those who don’t learn from shabby nostalgic kitsch are doomed to bring contemporary raunch standards to bear on it.
Time to change the water, boys. Hot Tub Time Machine resurrects some forgotten talents and sends them back to where they came from: the ’80s.
John Cusack, Rob Corddry and Craig Robinson play three early-midlife losers, so desperate to recapture the magic of that momentous Winterfest ’86 weekend that they happen upon a chance to relive it. And they do, making quite a stupid, funny go of it.
In addition to Cusack himself, other period heroes playing along include a surly, one-armed bellhop (Crispin Glover), whose life-altering mishap we have the giddy pleasure of anticipating; and a cryptic repairman-necromancer (Chevy Chase), whose cosmic guidance deliberately grates. Also, Clark Duke plays the Cusack character’s dorkarrific nephew, who finds himself in the unpleasant position of trying not to impede his own conception, nor to witness it.
The director is frequent Cusack collaborator Steve Pink, and the story credit belongs to Josh Heald, who shares screenwriting with Sean Anders and John Morris. Which means that Heald probably sat in a room with all those guys and said something like, “Dudes. Do you know what would be awesome? A movie about a hot tub time machine! And do you know what would be even more awesome? It’s set in the ’80s, with alumni of Caddyshack and Back to the Future and Better Off Dead. Here’s what I was thinking…”
At which point, had I been in that room that day, I might have said, “I don’t even need to see your treatment. You had me at hot tub time machine.”
That is, let’s just take a moment to appreciate what we’re dealing with here. The science-fiction fantasy of repurposing recreational amenities is a delicate art. There’s no telling how many atomic hibachis and jukebox teleporters and karaoke machine cloaking devices Heald had to rough out and discard before bringing the near-perfect conceptual elegance of Hot Tub Time Machine to the table.
After that breakthrough, who cares if the thing is written by committee? Division of labor is a great way to get through the gag checklist anyway. You put one guy on bodily-fluid duty, get somebody else administering the quota of boob flashes and ’80s movie references, and then just leave yourself available to inspiration—like the crucial idea for that chemically mysterious Russian energy drink to do double plot-point duty, first as accidental accelerant to the titular contraption, then as a possible weapon of mass destruction when your heroes run afoul of preppy ragers who were indoctrinated by Red Dawn.
We can see the future, and it is big box office.