We know: This Hot Tub Time Machine thing is confusing. Is it a Hangover-style raunch-comedy? A time-travel epic? A 2001: A Space Odyssey-style journey into the vortex of our deepest souls? We answer your hot, wet questions below. Spoilers ahead...
What's Hot Tub Time Machine About?
Actually, the title's pretty self-explanatory.
So it's about a hot tub... that's also a time machine?
Okay, we take it back. It's not self-explanatory at all. Actually, the hot tub is not a time machine. Rather, it astrally projects three middle-aged losers back in time, so that they occupy the bodies of their younger selves for a steamy ski weekend when they confronted questions of life, love and identity. And stuff. But the fourth occupant of the hot tub, a kid named Jacob (Clark Duke) who wasn't born yet in 1986, gets physically transported back in time.
That's pretty confusing. So it's only a time machine if you weren't alive in 1986? Otherwise, it just transplants your mind backwards in time into your younger self?
So I've heard a lot about the fact that Crispin Glover is in this movie, in a small but crucial role. I have a vague recollection that Glover was in the Back To The Future movies, except for the third one, where he was replaced by a wig. So is this movie's storyline similar to Back To The Future?
Not really. Back To The Future is the gold standard of how to use time travel for humor and character development, and it's unwise of Hot Tub Time Machine to invoke the comparison. In BTTF, there's a clear storyline, where Marty McFly gets stuck in the 1950s, where he grapples with culture shock and with seeing the roots of his dad's loser-hood. He accidentally prevents his parents from hooking up, so he'll never be born unless he fixes it — and he wants to get home to the 1980s, because he's clearly out of place here.
Meanwhile, the characters in Hot Tub Time Machine mostly lurch through their own past, without much being at stake. Except for Clark Duke's character, who we're told once or twice might not be born if the timeline changes. But there's never any serious worry that Duke's character won't be born, except for one brief moment. Until the tacked-on ending, you don't get the feeling that this journey is changing them as people, and the culture-shock of being in the 1980s is muted because the characters are reliving their own pasts. In some ways, this is like a Sweded version of Back To The Future made by people reading the summary on the video box.
Okay. But I mean, the three middle-aged characters are losers in the present. And then they travel back to the past, when they were young and awesome. So they relive their glory days and learn something, right?
Actually, they were losers when they were younger, too. They were always losers. They do come away with a keener awareness of what losers they were when they were younger. At one point late in the film, you get the sense that all three of them are getting to be slightly more awesome this time around, which comes out of nowhere but is still nice to see. And there's that tacked-on ending I mentioned.
So they were lovable losers?
Exactly — except not all that lovable.
John Cusack's in this movie too, right? I saw John Cusack on one of the posters.
Yes, he is. He's doing a weird Christian Bale gravel-voice thing. But he's in it.
I seem to remember Cusack being in some movies in the 1980s. Does this riff on those?
Not nearly as much as you'd expect. There are a few fleeting moments that feel like a spoof of a John Hughes romantic comedy, but they feel like they belong to a different movie. What the film does have is a lot of little nods to 1980s pop culture, like one minor character being obsessed with Red Dawn, and there's lots of 1980s music and fashions, and Ronald Reagan is randomly giving a speech live on television. The 1980s thing is mostly a backdrop for the fairly timeless action, except that the minor character who's obsessed with Red Dawn is also paranoid about the Russians.
So wait, back up to the part where they're in the bodies of their younger selves. So they get to be young again — except that they remember everything that happened to them since 1986? They get to relive their prime of life a second time? That sounds like a pretty sweet deal. Right?
It is a nice deal — except that for some reason they think they need to return to the present, so they can be stuck as middle-aged losers again. It's not ever really clear why, except that Chevy Chase plays a cryptic hot tub repairman, whose confusing utterances could mean that there'll be bad consequences if these time travelers change their own history. (Or not, possibly.) And Clark Duke's nerdy character lectures them about not changing history, but they don't really pay attention to him. (And his best argument is that if they change events in the 1980s, Hitler will be president. That's one of the film's really funny lines.)
Weirdly, at times, the characters talk about being young again as if it were this terrible burden that they're trying to escape from. It's sort of bizarre. At best, they're sort of apathetic about the whole thing, except for the very end.
Is Rob Corddry funny in this?
Yeah, he's definitely the best thing in it. He's the biggest schmuck of the group, and he throws himself into it with insane gusto, setting himself up for punishment again and again through his insane schmuckiness. Really, the whole movie stands and falls based on how much you enjoy watching Rob Corddry being a schmuck. For the most part, it's fun to watch, but after an hour or so it started to get old for me. The fourth star, Craig Robinson from The Office, has a few really great moments.
I really liked The Hangover. That was really funny. This is like that, right?
The consensus of everybody I've talked to who saw both movies is that this is not nearly as funny as The Hangover. And The Hangover was a movie, where this is mostly a collection of hit-and-miss gags strung together randomly.
Well, my standards are quite low, so that's okay. Are there lots of boobs in this movie? It's R-rated, right?
There are a couple of brief moments where you see boobs. There aren't really any memorable women in this movie, except Cusack's love interest, who's not in it very much. It's hard to have boobs when you don't have women. This is definitely a movie about male bonding. Between guys who don't like each other that much.
I don't really care about boobs anyway. What about bodily fluids? Does this film have those?
Yes, although curiously there's no snot. We were wondering afterwards why that was. Every few minutes, somebody gets spattered pretty reliably with poop, projectile vomit, urine, blood and semen (although the semen turns out to be fake.) But no snot. Why is there no snot? Was there some kind of anti-snot discimination at work here? The only thing we could think of was that the snot will probably be on the DVD. As a deleted scene. Or maybe it'll just be on the DVD, so it gets on your hand when you put it in your player.
So it sounds like you didn't like this movie that much. What gives?
I know. And usually, I love dumb comedies. And gross-out humor. Maybe this one just got me on a bad day. If it helps, Roger Ebert, who is a living god, loved it. I would take Roger Ebert's opinion over mine, any day.
So why didn't you like it, exactly? Are you just anti-projectile vomit?
No qualms about the projectile vomit here. I think it's because I didn't like the characters — mostly because the movie tells me over and over that I shouldn't like the characters. (Cusack says over and over that he's self-absorbed, which is the only sign we ever see of his self-absorption.) Comedy about unlikable people is hard to pull off — Steve Coogan does it brilliantly, and so do a few other comics, but it's a tricky one. And I just didn't think the comedy was crazy enough to overcome how much I disliked these people.
Also, I really, really love time-travel comedies. It's not exactly a capacious genre, and there are really only a handful of stone classics. BTTF is one, Bill And Ted is another. Time-travel comedy is even trickier than comedy about unlikable people. But when it works, it's beyond magic. It has the fish-out-of-water thing, the mind-bending conundrum thing, the escapist thing of being able to untangle the tyrrany of the irrevocable, and most of all the near-limitless slapstick potential of someone traipsing around the wrong decade and making an ungodly mess. I freakin love time-travel comedies. Except when they're sloppy, gimmicky and a bit boring. Then I hate them.
Wait, I still have more questions.
Ask them in the comments! If you ask them often enough, they'll become frequently asked, and we'll have no choice but to answer them.