Hot Tub Time Machine a comedy about four friends transported to 1986 by a malfunctioning jacuzzi is funnier than a film built around such a patently dubious premise has any right to be. It’s so funny in fact that it could rightly be called — and I promise never to make this analogy again — the Hangover of home-appliance time-travel comedies.
A title like Hot Tub Time Machine creates certain expectations and so its story spares little time getting us to the eponymous plot device laying down the barest of setups before its four protagonists are jettisoned back in time: Lou (Rob Corddry) is a caustic drunk who must feign suicide to get friends to return his calls; Nick (Craig Robinson) is hopelessly whipped by his domineering wife; Adam (John Cusack) is a type-A insurance salesman reeling from a nasty breakup; his acerbic nephew Jacob (Clark Duke) lives in the basement his every waking moment devoted to his Second Life virtual world. And he’s arguably the coolest member of the group.
The quartet of schlubs sets out for a bromantic ski vacation but no sooner have they unpacked their bags then a bizarre accident involving a grimy hot tub an illegal Russian energy drink and an ill-tempered squirrel sends them hurtling back to 1986 where they awake bewildered and hungover in the middle of the momentous Spring Break weekend that childhood friends Lou Nick and Adam spent together while in high school. It’s a comedic Twilight Zone scenario fraught with all sorts of scary space-time continuum ramifications not the least of which threatens the very existence of young Jacob who had yet to be born in 1986 and whose mother (Collette Wolfe) he awkwardly discovers was a raging slut back in the day.
The greatest hazard with such a storyline is the temptation to overdose on cheap ‘80s jokes (everyone has big hair!) or time-travel ironies (Michael Jackson was still black!) and while Hot Tub Time Machine indulges in both (how could it not?) director Steve Pink (Accepted) looks mainly to his talented leads to carry the bulk of the film’s comedic weight. It’s a smart bet. Duke and Corddry are the cast's clear standouts but Robinson is close behind and even Cusack nearly matches the number of laugh-out-loud lines he delivered in 2012.
Hot Tub Time Machine’s hilariously warped journey through time is not without its bumps in the road. The holes in its plot extend beyond the excusable logical lapses bred by time travel and its complexities and the film’s handful of gross-out moments feel forced and unnecessary (save for one uproarious bit involving Corddry’s mouth Robinson’s penis and Karate Kid badboy Billy Zabka). A superfluous romantic subplot between Cusack’s character and a quirky music journalist (Lizzy Caplan) seems little more than a transparent ploy to add a quadrant to the film’s demographic reach — or perhaps to give more “weight” to its star actor’s role. But with a comedy like this it’s always best to travel light.