Hot Tub Time Machine – Film Review
“Hot Tub Time Machine is a cheap, poorly-written, hideous attempt to produce a modern comedy. That’s all that can be said upon reflection after viewing this unfathomable mess of a ‘motion picture’. “
Directed by: Steve Pink
Written by: Josh Herald, Sean Anders, John Morris
Starring: John Cusack, Craig Robinson, Clark Duke, Rob Corddry, Lyndsy Fonseca
Age Certificate: 15/R
The film follows the plot of a middle-aged trio of men, all tired of their lifestyles and romantic statuses. After one of the men is involved with a near-death car experience, they all decide to visit their favourite holiday camp destination from their youthful days in the 1980’s. Our leading star, Adam, brings along his 20-year-old nephew Jacob, and all chaos ensues after they find themselves back in the late-80’s by each passing out in a hotel hot-tub.
As far as the narrative itself is presented, it manages to introduce itself somewhat nicely. The audience learns of the characters identities, their traits and regrets fairly early-on, allowing for viewers to grasp hold of their aspirations and current status. However, where the film fails is involving each of these characters into the objective of the narrative itself – to return back to 2010 before sunrise. Not only does is this objective not explained well, but all throughout the film we rarely see the characters display any emotions to show their struggle and desperation, and the narrative constantly deviates from its focus to the point where the viewer couldn’t care less (although that is also due to the audience’s relationship with the characters themselves, which we’ll get to later). There’s probably a million plot-holes throughout the film, but seeing as this is a comedy, it’s not something the we need worry about… right? Without revealing plot details, all of the main characters divert their structured intentions that will result in them returning back to the future, and the audience quickly recognises that the narrative itself allows for all of the onscreen characters to break any of the film’s structural rules.
An example would be how Craig Robinson’s character Nick, a former musician, performs a live show to mass-successes, yet it was stated in the film that his actual performance was a complete failure. Is this an excuse to criticise the film for thinking far to deeply into it? Absolutely not; Hot Tub Time Machine may be a raunchy comedy, with more focus on character interaction than narrative, but when the film allows the narrative to completely break its own rules and structure without any explanation for the viewer, they are left completely disinterested with the eventual outcome.
Although credit should be awarded where it is due – the film does attempt to tie this mess together through Chevy Chase’s role as the repairman, a mysterious character that is supposedly self-aware of the four men’s unexpected journey back in time, in the style of a ‘Cheshire Cat’ performance. Constantly throughout the film the viewer is left with small hints as to what exactly the characters should propose to do, yet that is where further problems develop, as we’re provided with too little understanding of the content this character proposes. For example, our heroes are told by the repairman to return to 2010 before sunrise, but there is no explanation as to what consequences could transpire as a result to their failure. This may seem like a minor picking, but in actuality, if the audience doesn’t have a developed understanding of what happens to what force opposes the heroes, then there isn’t any room to invest ourselves emotionally within the characters themselves.
Take Back to the Future, a sci-fi/comedy classic that is arguably the best time-travel comedy ever produced. The audience learns early-on that if Marty were to fail in his attempts to restore his parent’s romantic partnership, then he would never have been born. The film clearly explains to us this convention, and it is the sole driving force of the narrative that keeps the viewer engages throughout. Hot Tub Time Machine, on the other hand, doesn’t have any clear explanation as to why the characters are capable of breaking so many narrative rules, and establishing the consequences of the rules themselves – it’s a conjunctional mess of a film.
As for Hot Tub Time Machine’s characters, they’re just as forgettable, if not more so than the narrative. The leading cast consist of Adam (John Cusack, in one of his more forgettable roles), his nephew Jacob (Clark Duke), and two closest friends from his youth, Lou (Rob Corddry) and Nick (played by the ever-lovable Craig Robinson, although this performance is anything but lovable).
It is established during the beginning of the film that the relationship between the three main characters has faded overtime, and the actors do their best to showcase this. The main problem with the main cast, however, is that they’re completely two-dimensional and unfunny. Adam is the portrayed as the leader, Lou is the madman, Jacob is the one with common-sense, and Nick is supposedly the comic relief, yet he very rarely delivers a line worth any credit. It’s not necessarily the casting that’s at fault, but the script – none of these characters are funny, and the way in which they interact with each other doesn’t provide the audience with any laughs, all throughout the film. Instead, the viewer is expected to find their humor through the way in which the reactions of our cast to their environments conjure slapstick comedic instances, but again, the dialogue and the narrative itself set these instances back, resulting in a tedious, drawn-out, and inconceivably unfunny adventure.
Then there’s the remaining characters; two love interests, the leading characters sister, and a villain. As if the characters couldn’t get any more two-dimensional and unfunny, Adam’s romantic pursuits are incapable of emoting a single care, thought, or laugh from the audience. After being sent back in time, Adam realises that he could change the course of his life by aiming to pursuit his attractive then-girlfriend Jenny (played by Kick Ass’ Lyndsy Fonseca), yet along the way, he ends up meeting a new girl, a music journalist named April (Lizzy Caplan). It isn’t necessarily a major flaw, due to the film being a comedy set around an absurd premises, but the audience instantaneously recognises that Adam will end up falling for the later character April, and that Jenny will be reduced to a false pursuit. However, this would all be fine if it weren’t for one setback – April is the film’s most boring character, with little-to-no chemistry between her’s and Adam’s romance. April and Adam’s love interest is much like a Disney three-day romance, with the gender roles being switched round entirely, yet April remains just as bland and unfunny as any fairytale prince. Jenny, on the other hand, does have a bit more of an identity, in the sense that film establishes she is supposedly somewhat insane, yet the narrative never allows for this concept to develop.
The villain… the villain is… there. That’s all that can really be said about this villain. He’s there. Established as a former rival of Lou’s, this villain, titled Chaz, intends to put a stop to the Adam’s gang by doing something (what that is is never explained). His motive? Discovering an alcoholic substance in the form of a can from the future that leads him to believe the newcomer are communists. Although that may seem hard to believe, it is a literal conversion directly from the film’s narrative.
Not only are his motives ridiculous and pointless, but Chaz is yet again another unfunny, boring character that is input into the film solely to cause violent disruption. In fact, Chaz is so rarely visible onscreen that it is a miracle he’s referred to the villain at all. And then, finally, we are introduced to Adam’s sister Kelly, who coincidentally is Jacob’s mother – a contrasting character to her brother, presented as a flirtatious and boding individual. Out of all the supporting cast members, Kelly is the one where the smallest hint of comedy may appear to derive from – emphasis on “smallest”. Overall, the supporting cast is just as bland as the main cast, and they don’t do much to provide variety in the film’s comedic department.
An aspect of Hot Tub Time Machine that is rarely analysed by critics is the way in which the film seemingly glamourise hard-drug use. Regardless of your stance on marjuana, it would be a safe assumption to presume that the majority of audiences would be against cocaine promotion. This film takes a stance on consumption of cocaine, in which it is constantly use as an excusable scapegoat for the leading characters actions. As a viewer, we’d expect that cocaine use would have some relevance to the film in regards to it being set in a 1980’s youth-holiday destination, but these characters are middle-aged men that rely on the drug solely to nauseate their emotional distress. It would be excusable had the film established that maybe one of the characters was addicted to the drug, but instead the audience is expected to tolerate their trials and errors solely through the use of the drug.
If there’s one positive theme present within Hot Tub Time Machine, it would be the small reoccurring gag portrayed through the hotel serviceman Phil (Crispin Glover). It is established during the beginning of the film that Phil lost his arm in some kind of accident during the 1980’s, and throughout the course of the film we witness several humorous instances where this his accident could possibly take place. If the film were more like this instead of an unfunny trial and error story, then it would have certainly resulted in a much more positive analysis. Moreover, the acting from the main cast isn’t necessarily poorly performed.
To conclude, Hot Tub Time Machine is a comedic failure of colossal levels. It’s a poorly written mess of an attempt to captivate audiences through the tired, age-old ‘time-travel’ comedy convention, and it is has very few positive attributes to reward it with any form of positive merit. It isn’t as if the director and cast don’t have the talent to produce a well-outspoken comedy film, for example High Fidelity, which also stars John Cusack and director Steve Pink, yet they seem to have scored an undeniably unmissable own-goal here through poor scriptwriting.