At The Picture Show
Jacuzzi + time travel = wasted potential
Yes, those two things could have made a beautiful partnership; unfortunately, in this movie, they don't
Hot Tub Time Machine
Director: Steve Pink
Screenplay: Josh Heald, Sean Anders and John Morris
Starring: John Cusack, Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, Clark Duke, Lyndsy Fonseca, Crispin
Glover, Lizzy Caplan and Chevy Chase
Rated R / 1 hour, 40 minutes
(out of four)
Conventional wisdom says that Hot Tub Time Machine is an inherently dumb concept. I mean,
just look at that title, right? "So it's a hot tub . . .and it's ALSO a time machine? Well that's
just silly!" The conventional wisdom, and the practitioners thereof, can point to the
unapologetically to-the-point title as proof of the concept's fundamental mindlessness - instead
of recognizing the clever absurdity of its juxtaposition. (I mean, is a hot tub really that much
more ridiculous a time-travel device than a DeLorean?)
(Also, just for the sake of time machine-related argument: DeLorean > hot tub > phone booth >
that stupid remote from Click.)
Yeah that's right, I insist that Hot Tub Time Machine is, in fact, a
great premise, rife with possibilities that unfortunately go unfulfilled. If this movie had a
director who could mine the material and take the film in the right, well, direction, this could
have been a fantastic comedy. If only the writers hadn't sold their material so short. I mean,
didn't they see what they had on their hands? A hot tub that doubles as a time machine + 1980s
kitsch. Tell me that doesn't make you laugh. You can't, can you?! So then why does most of the
movie feel like it's on autopilot? One thing that will always drive me crazy is watching a movie
that leaves so many comic possibilities twisting in the wind.
An attempt to combine the carefree idiocy of so many '80s movie plots with the self-awareness
that didn't arrive until a decade later, Hot Tub Time Machine follows a group of down-on-their-luck guys who go back to the ski resort where all their youthful memories lay buried, only to be
transported back to their seminal winter of '86 (as their younger selves, no less) in a blur of hot
Naturally, when they get there, they have rules they're supposed to follow (you know, the typical
time-travel paradox/butterfly effect stuff) in order to keep the time-space continuum in balance.
Or something like that.
Anyway, that proves a rather difficult task, as the boys are
constantly confronted by the regrets, embarrassments and pleasurable indulgences of their
The movie essentially sets up the same dynamic as a handful of other movies about guys in their
30s and 40s hitting a mid-life crisis as they wax nostalgic about their younger days, but with the
added wrinkle of the characters being able to face those younger days head-on. Within that
framework, there is ample opportunity for comic invention - opportunity that too often goes
To be sure, the filmmakers know their target perfectly well; all of the most amusing (or at least
most scorn-worthy) stereotypes and '80s cultural touchstones are on display, and the film is
littered with shots and plot devices lifted straight out of an '80s movie marathon.
But no one knows what to do with any of it. The filmmakers know their stuff - they just don't
know how to explore it, or parody it, or play with it. Let me give you an example. Fittingly,
since this is the mid-'80s and all, absurd Cold War paranoia becomes a plot element - and I
thought right away that that, at least, had a chance to be glorious. Instead, it's brought up to be
used, rather haphazardly, in one sequence of plot resolution. And that's it. That's all anyone
could think of to do with it. I mean, if a movie is going to have ideas, the least it could do is
know how to use them.
This is the kind of movie I wanted to like more than I actually
did. The actors give it their all. It's great to see John Cusack let loose in a movie like this -
especially since he was such a staple of the '80s high-school flicks this one draws influence
from. And two of the film's finer elements come in the form of a pair of fellow staples from that
decade - Crispin Glover (whom the film's funniest running gag centers around) and Chevy
Chase (whom the film's second-funniest running gag centers around).
I'd like to admire Hot Tub Time Machine on terms of sheer audacity . . . only it doesn't have any.
Just an inkling of something that could have been. If this movie were to look back on itself two
decades from now, it would be disappointed.
Read more by Chris Bellamy