Before I get to pounding this movie into ground chuck, let me be clear: I know anything called Hot Tub Time Machine ain’t gonna be a Eugene O’Neill play. This movie is supposed to be an exercise in magnificent stupidity–blinding, blathering, and cut for optimal idiotic purity. And plenty of flicks have dwelled in this domain and found a way to be funny: They’re so dumb, and yet so endearing, we basically have no choice but to laugh. But Hot Tub is so disgusting, so mean-spirited, and so relentlessly god-damn obnoxious, most of its jokes plop softly to the ground, like doomed spitwads. This is a long day’s journey into tripe.
You know those infomercials, where somebody puts every fruit you’ve ever heard of into an overpowered juicer and purees them into a gray-green sludge you’d never drink in a million years? That’s what Hot Tub does, but with classic movies. Take Back to the Future. And Porky’s. Now Breakfast Club. Maybe some American Pie and Superbad. Hit that button, and presto! It’s a big pitcher of syrupy slop that tastes like everything and nothing, all at once. Enjoy!
At this point, I guess I have to describe the “plot,” which feels like the cinematic equivalent of describing a rash. We open in the the present day, where four nincompoops have found four different ways to bottom out in life. There’s Adam (John Cusack), who’s so unlucky in love, he resembles what casinos refer to as a “cooler.” Love seems to wilt all around him. Nick (Craig Robinson) cleans dog butts for a living and endures a toxic marriage. Lou (Rob Corddry) is a boozy man-child with some genuinely serious mental issues. Jacob (Clark Duke) is Adam’s lonely, goob-tastic nephew who latches onto the plot as a whiny voice of reason.
The three older goofballs have been friends since high school, even though life has pulled them away from each other. When Lou survives what might be a suicide attempt, the boys reunite to lift his spirits and rediscover their lost youth. (Add The Big Chill to the movies that get desecrated here.) They grab Jacob and head for Kodiak Valley, a ski resort town that holds beaucoup memories for the group.
Well, it turns out you can’t go home again. The Kodiak is now a moldering ghost town, with boarded windows and empty streets. Crestfallen, the boys settle into the lodge and resolve to have a good time anyway. They plop into their stanky hot tub, which they accidentally soak with Chernobly, Lou’s malt liquor-energy drink.
Naturally, this crack-based beverage causes a rift in the space-time continuum, and our heroes awake to find themselves in 1986. To everyone else, they resemble their bright-eyed teenage selves. Naturally, Jacob wasn’t born yet, so he’s unchanged. This puts the guys in an ethical bind: Do they try to keep the timeline intact, or is this a second chance to improve their middling lives? (Jesus, throw Quantum Leap into the juicer, while we’re at it.)
What follows is an onslaught of gross-out gags and jiggling boobies. The film attempts to recreate the frat-house shenanigans of its 80s and 90s ancestors, even casting Cusack as a symbol of that era. This makes Hot Tub an instant anachronism–ironically, a movie out of time. Those pie-humping raunch-coms have thankfully faded from cultural relevance, meaning the slobbery sex jokes here couldn’t feel more dated. One of the scenes, in which a character is forced to fellate another, is just plain offensive.
Hot Tub also offends good taste by squandering a very funny cast. Cusack can play the lovesick puppy as well as anyone, but the movie waters down his natural intelligence and charisma. Adam is a pitiful, off-putting individual. When he meets a beautiful, engaging young woman (played by the underrated Lizzy Caplan), it’s totally unbelievable she’d want to share anything with him other than a charged taser. Corddry acts as a conduit for most of the film’s disgusting humor, thus negating the actor’s obvious comedic gifts. Likewise, Sebastian Stan has little to do as the bratty villain. Cameos from Crispin Glover and Chevy Chase are just…weird. Maybe the writers were too rocked on ganja and Chernobly to make anything, you know, actually funny.
As with everything we screen on Cinemavino, it’s fascinating to rewatch a movie like this. Much like the wine, some films hold up for years. A few even get better. Hot Tub Time Machine is the perfect example of an expired movie. Stupid cinema normally doesn’t have much of a shelf life, but this feels especially rotten. The faster we chuck this one in the bin, the better.
99 minutes. R. On demand.