“Hot Tub Time Machine” is a movie with the courage to ask, “Man, what happened to us?” and to answer, “Oh, that’s right: We came of age as acid-washed coke fiends during a time of Reaganomics, heavy pastels and Poison concerts.” Not to mention more than a few grody assembly-line abominations at the multiplex. It is a movie with the wisdom to remind us that those who don’t learn from shabby nostalgic kitsch are doomed, or privileged, to bring contemporary hard-R raunch standards to bear on it.
John Cusack, Rob Corddry and Craig Robinson play three early-midlife losers, so desperate to recapture the magic of that momentous Winterfest ‘86 weekend that they happen upon a cautionary chance relive it. And so they do, making quite a stupid, funny go of it. In addition to Cusack, other period heroes playing along include surly one-armed bellhop Crispin Glover, whose life-altering mishap we’re encouraged giddily to anticipate; and cryptic repairman-necromancer Chevy Chase, whose fragmentary cosmic guidance deliberately grates. Also, Clark Duke plays the Cusack character’s dorkarrific nephew, who finds himself in the unpleasant position of trying not to impede his own conception, nor to witness it.
The director is frequent Cusack collaborator Steve Pink, and the story credit belongs to Josh Heald, who shared screenwriting with Sean Anders and John Morris. Which means that at some point Heald must have sat in a room with all those guys and said something like, “Dudes. Do you know what would be fucking awesome? A movie about a hot tub time machine! And do you know what would be even more fucking awesome? Setting it in the ’80s, with alumni of “Caddyshack” and “Back to the Future” and “Better Off Dead.” OK, so here’s what I was thinking….”
At which point, had I been in that room that day, I might have said, “Josh, let me stop you. I don’t even need to see your treatment. You had me at hot tub time machine.”
What I mean is, let’s take a moment to appreciate what we’re dealing with here. The science-fiction fantasy of multitasking recreational amenities is a delicate art. There’s no telling how many atomic hibachis and jukebox teleporters and karaoke machine cloaking devices Heald had to rough out and discard before bringing the near-perfect conceptual elegance of “Hot Tub Time Machine” to the table.
After that breakthrough, who really cares if the thing gets written by committee? Division of labor is a great way to get through the gag checklist anyway. You put one guy on bodily-fluid duty, get somebody else administering the quota of boob flashes and ’80s movie references, and then just leave yourself open to jolts of inspiration.
Like that chemically mysterious Russian energy drink doing double plot-point duty, first as accidental accelerant to the eponymous contraption, then as possible weapon of mass destruction when your heroes run afoul of “Red Dawn”-indoctrinated preppy ragers. Or that even more chemically mysterious cast of stars — each a charmer in his own way and collectively a riot — who will take it from there.
What’s past is past and you have seen the future: as disposable as it is bankable.