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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"HOT TUB TIME MACHINE"


Hot Tub Time Machine - the title says it all.
 
Hot Tub Time Machine represents an example of the phenomenon known as Great Title, Middling Execution. I've got to admit that from the time I first heard that title I was pretty psyched. It was silly, but in that very good, self-aware kind of way that suggested a fun time. Of course, the problem with such a great title - as dozens of exploitation filmmakers have doubtlessly learned over the decades - is that it can be difficult to develop a story that matches the inspiration of the name. In other words, the Hot Tub Time Machine I saw in my head is a lot funnier than the Hot Tub Time Machine I actually saw in my local theater.

The premise is almost ridiculously simple. Three guys have three separate problems. Adam (John Cusack) has just been dumped by his girlfriend. Nick (Craig Robinson) has been cheated on by his wife. Lou (Rob Corddry) is a suicidal alcoholic. Together with Adam's dorky nephew Jacob (Clark Duke), the pals decide to take a vacation from their problems by returning to the same ski resort where they shared many a wild time back in the 80's. They get their old room, party heavily in the old hot tub, and somehow wake up in 1986.

Things get complicated when the guys can't decide whether to change history and improve their personal lives, or do everything as they did then so as not to change history. Adam has it particularly tough, as he accidentally meets someone he didn't actually encounter back in 1986, and starts to fall for her. Jacob, meanwhile, works with a shady maintenance man (Chevy Chase) to fix the hot tub; after all, if they can't get back to present day, he will cease to exist.

Part of the problem with Hot Tub Time Machine is that it doesn't really know what to do with its premise, and so we get the same-old same-old: romantic entanglements, a guy getting revenge on the punk who once beat him up, etc. Itís kind of disheartening to see a bold concept employed to fuel such hackneyed subplots. A little more care on the front end might have helped. We don't really get much development of the characters' problems, so their resolution doesn't generate a whole lot of interest.

The ads would like you to believe that Hot Tub Time Machine is on par with The Hangover. It's not. Sure, it's got just as much raunchy humor, but the hit/miss ratio is a lot lower. It's funny when Nick, trying to figure out what era he's in, asks a young woman what color Michael Jackson is, then freaks out when she answers "black," but less funny when we get one joke after another about weird 80's fashion trends or heavy metal music.

It's really too bad, because when the movie works, it shows potential that could have paid off much more successfully. I loved the under-the-radar references to Better Off Dead and other 80's John Cusack movies. A running joke about how the resort's bellman (Crispin Glover) lost his arm is funny too. The presence of Cusack, Robinson, Corddry, and Chase also ensures a certain level of fun; each of them gives the movie their best shot.

In the end, though, I simply didn't laugh as much as I wanted or expected to. Hot Tub Time Machine is amiable and amusing. However, it is not consistent in its ability to be funny. I kept waiting for the film to start making me laugh hard, but it never did, and that was disappointing. When an R-rated comedy is called Hot Tub Time Machine, I want 100 minutes of non-stop cracking up. Instead, I sincerely laughed maybe five times, and then sat attentively in my seat, smiling perhaps, but never experiencing the comedic bliss I was hoping for.

( 1/2 out of four)


Hot Tub Time Machine is rated R for strong crude and sexual content, nudity, drug use and pervasive language. The running time is 1 hour and 38 minutes.

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