"Let's do something fun and create a memory!" suggests one of the protagonists of Hot Tub Time Machine. "Let's do cocaine and break into a school!" But Lou's (Rob Corddry) idea of a good time is greeted with skepticism by his mopey pals: The unhappily married Nick (The Office's Craig Robinson); the recently dumped Adam (John Cusack), and his computer-obsessed nephew Jacob (Sex Drive's Clark Duke). The four have come to a Nevada ski resort on vacation - the same resort where they once raised hell and had the time of their lives as teenagers.
The plan was to relive the past and get a break from their sad-sack present. But the hotel has gone to seed, the one-armed bellhop (Crispin Glover) is inexplicably angry and the mirror doesn't lie: With the exception of Jacob, who wasn't around the first time they were here, they've all gotten old. Then, during a drunken bout of hot-tubbing, someone accidentally spills a Russian energy drink onto the thermostat,û and the men are magically transported back to 1986, when hair-metal bands, MTV and leg warmers all ruled. They even look like their former teen selves to everyone but each other (although Jacob, who had not yet been born, develops a strange habit of flickering).
The breakneck movie that follows is intended to be an outrageous, hilarious ride - a comedy capable of startling even the most-jaded viewer into laughter. But shock value loses its novelty quickly, and the parade of tacky day-glo fashions and vintage movie posters invokes only a fleeting nostalgia. The 1980s were not intrinsically funny - they were just ridiculous - and so is the movie. Hot Tub Time Machine is good at being dumb and bad at everything else.
Directed by Steve Pink, who has a penchant for overusing close-ups to the point of enducing claustrophobia, Hot Tub Time Machine cannot sustain the level of comic insanity the filmmakers hoped for - no movie could - although it's bound to play much better on late-night cable TV, especially when accompanied by a few beers and the occasional bong hit.
A big part of the problem is casting: Of the leads, only Robinson, often the bright spot in otherwise flat comedies (The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard), strikes the right balance of straight-faced humor and droll satire. Everyone else seems miscast. Corddry is intolerably shrill and irritating from his first scene; Duke is an actor in need of a personality, and even the reliable Cusack seems muted and distracted, as if his other duties on the movie (he also served as a producer) were weighing heavily on him.
An extended cameo by Chevy Chase also falls flat: You wonder what a gifted comic (say, Bill Murray) would have done with the part of the magical hot-tub repairman. The funniest performance in Hot Tub Time Machine belongs to Glover, whose bitter bellhop turns out to be genial and easy going in 1986, when he still had two arms. How and when his limb comes off becomes a terrific running gag in the movie: Glover is always doing something that could potentially cost him his appendage, and the four leads are constantly running to watch him, expectantly.
If that joke doesn't strike your funny bone, Hot Tub Time Machine has plenty others to offer. This is the sort of movie in which a cute little squirrel gets knocked off its perch by projectile vomit (and later exacts big-time revenge). This is the sort of movie in which a guy dressed in a teddy-bear suit appears without explanation in one scene and then loiters in the background for the rest of the picture, usually getting liquored up or knocked down.
This is the sort of movie in which someone remarks that a bully reminds him of "the bad guy from The Karate Kid," and later, the actor who played the bad guy in The Karate Kid (William Zabka) pops up in a small role as a bad guy. This is also the kind of crummy-looking, exploitative, childishly gross and pointedly homophobic teen-sex comedy that was ubiquitous in the 1980s. Golden days, those.
Hot Tub Time Machine (** out of ****) opens in South Florida theaters on Friday, March 26.