Dir. by Steve Pink - 1 hr. 41 min.
Official Red Band Trailer
by Clayton Hollifield
Now that I've watched "Hot Tub Time Machine" a handful of times, I think this might be one of the darkest comedies ever committed to film. Part of that is John Cusack; no matter the film, he always seems to have a cloud hanging over his head (and is still completely watchable, which is his magic trick). But the entire premise is completely messed up, and as jammed full of real, relatable human misery as I've ever seen, and is still riotously hilarious.
A frayed group of miserable friends in their forties is reunited when one of them, Lou (Rob Corddry) described as being "an asshole, but he's our asshole," lands in the hospital what maybe possibly could have been a suicide attempt (he was drunk, and left the car running in his garage. His friends, Nick (Craig Robinson) and Adam (John Cusack), plus Adam's nephew, Jacob (Clark Duke) plan a weekend bacchanal at Kodiak Valley Ski Resort. Upon arrival, they find out that the resort has decayed a bit from its glory days during their collective youth. They charge forward, and spend the night punishing the hell out of their livers, and wake up in their suite's hot tub. The tub has somehow transported the crew back to 1986, giving them a chance to relive one of their greatest weekends (for most of them).
First off, all of the characters are completely miserable, and it's not some vague malaise that can't quite be defined. Nick works at a dog-groomer's, fishing keys out of the wrong end of dogs, having given up on the music career he sought as a teenager at his wife's request. Adam has just broken up with a long-term girlfriend, and not in a painless way. Jacob is isolated in Adam's basement, content with playing Second Life even though his character has been imprisoned within the game, and barely aware that someone in his own house has moved out. And Lou has taken the drifting apart of his friends and resulting isolation very, very hard. These are all real-life situations that people may find themselves in, and not knowing how to get out of.
In 1986, though, at a mysterious janitor's (Chevy Chase) insistence, they all have to relive the weekend exactly the way that it happened. The weekend had a nostalgic haze over it, but this isn't a great deal for any of them (not to mention Jacob, who wasn't even born, and thus is completely bewildered by the 80s). Adam has to break up with the girl that he'd always regretted breaking up with (and get stabbed in the eye with a fork), Lou has multiple ass-beatings in his immediate future, and since Nick had managed to pull a groupie after his mediocre singing performance, it dredges up some intense emotions regarding his current marital situation (and he cries all the way through the sex). It doesn't take any of them very long to go into business for themselves, regardless of the consequences.
But for the most part, things end up with the same results, regardless of the details of how each of them arrives at the end of their road. And this is the message of the film: you cannot escape your destiny. But the opportunity does arise for one of them to break free; Lou admits that he was trying to kill himself, and didn't want to return to the future, knowing that he'll just keeping trying until he gets it right. When the rest of them do return to the future, it turns out that Lou had used all of his "future knowledge" to make a fortune. In the present day, we now have Lougle and Motley Lue, and he's used his fortune to help his friends see out their dreams as well.
This is where the film turns so black for me; Lou only succeeds because he's given a second chance and has insider knowledge. But every last one of these characters has screwed up everything they do on the first pass. Once they've outlived what they already knew, and don't know what bad choices they have to avoid, they're sure to screw everything up all over again. And although the film ends on a high point for all involved (and then with a kick-ass Motley Lue video for "Home Sweet Home"), if you've paid attention at all to what the story has been telling you, this is only a momentary success for these men. And the fall will be even harder this time, since they've all had to be rescued from their own failures once before, tasted mead in Valhalla, and then have to return to being failures. You cannot escape your destiny, no matter what roads you take to get there.
There's no end of really funny material here, even upon repeat viewings (I think I'm up to four or five times around now). But if you're in a bad mood, or feeling nostalgic for when you actually used to see your friends, those are the wrong frames of mind to watch "Hot Tub Time Machine" in. Laughter is supposed to help you out, but the downer message really stuck with me this time around. But that doesn't diminish the movie in any way, grounding the characters so successfully makes the good times feel a little bit better.
3.5 / 5 - DVD