Time Travel Thursday: Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)
Time travel tropes8
Matthew Turner | On 07, Apr 2022
Director: Steve Pink
Cast: John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Clark Duke, Sebastian Stan, Lyndsey Fonseca, Crispin Glover, Chevy Chase
Has Boss Level whetted your appetite for more time travel titilation? Transport yourself no further than Time Travel Thursday, our column devoted to time travel movies. It’s on Thursday.
Directed by Steve Pink, this 2010 comedy stars John Cusack as forty-something Adam, who’s just gone through a bad break-up and persuades his best friends – near-suicidal Lou (Rob Corddry) and married-but-unhappy Nick (Craig Robinson) – as well as his nerdy nephew, Jacob (Clark Duke), to take a trip to a ski resort they used to go to 25 years ago. However, an accident with a hot tub and an energy drink sends them back to the year 1986, where they’re confronted with several tempting opportunities to change their futures.
Conveniently, the three friends inhabit their own teenaged bodies, meaning that Adam has to decide whether or not to break up with his then-girlfriend (Lyndsey Fonseca), Nick can still play with his band and Lou can attempt to retrace his dimly remembered weekend of debauchery. However, when Jacob realises that he was conceived that weekend, he finds his life in jeopardy, Marty McFly-style and realises that he has to find the father he’s never met.
Hot Tub Time Machine scores highly when it comes to time travel tropes, not least because it has an actual time machine in it, even if it is a rather silly one. It also achieves a good balance of time travel jokes and dramatic time travel-related stakes.
The posters at the time described Hot Tub Time Machine as “The Hangover meets Back to the Future” and that’s actually pretty accurate, although it’s neither as clever or as funny as that description suggests. Essentially, it feels as if the filmmakers had the perfect script that would combine a clever time-travel plot, a succession of terrific jokes and some moving emotional moments… and then they just decided to bin that script and film themselves pissing about instead.
As a result, the film relies far too much on lowbrow humour, none of which is quite as funny as the film’s cleverer moments, while the climax feels strangely unsatisfying for a number of different reasons, especially when compared to Back to the Future. If anything, it’s doubly frustrating that the filmmakers were clearly aware of the perfect template for their ending and just chose to ignore it.
On the plus side, the performances are excellent, with Robinson probably the stand-out – his delivery of the film’s title line is hilarious and he also gets the film’s best joke, which it would be unfair to reveal here. In addition, despite all the lowbrow stuff, there are still plenty of big laughs, whether it’s witty one-liners, sight gags or comic set-pieces.
Ultimately, Hot Tub Time Machine is likeable and frequently funny, with flashes of real invention, but it largely bungles the emotional side of things and it’s hard to come away from it without thinking how much better it could have been with a few simple tweaks.