Hot Tub Time Machine knows it's stupid and slapdash. Like the little kid who knocks over a lamp then makes a sad face, shrugs sheepishly, and waits for an "Awwww," this retro '80s themed, nostalgia time-travel trip hopes it can get through ninety-eight minutes on a wing and a prayer. And it sorta does, mostly due to John Cusack's stockpile of audience goodwill. But Josh Heald and Sean Anders & John Morris haven't worked hard enough in the script department, seemingly leaving Cusack, Rob Corddry (Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay), Craig Robinson (The Office), and Clark Duke (Sex Drive) to their own improvisatory devices.
Funny trumps everything, but Hot Tub Time Machine rarely rises above the level of mild amusement. Cusack plays newly single insurance salesman Adam, whose advice rings a bit hollow when he counsels twenty-year-old nephew Jacob (Duke) that he's wasting his days playing "Second Life." Adam isn't getting anywhere either, but at least he can remember glory days when he and pals felt alive. One of Adam's friends—profane and loud-mouthed Lou (Corddry), a.k.a. "Violator"—nearly winds up dead in a drunken, half-assed suicide attempt, prompting Adam and his married friend Nick (Robinson) to plan a return visit to Kodiak Valley, the ski resort site of their youthful partying conquests. Taking in the now decrepit resort, Adam reflects, "We were young. We had momentum. We were winning...Everyone seemed to care more. Everything seemed to matter more back then." Cue the magic hot tub!
Without knowing how, the three old friends and tagalong Jacob find themselves in 1986 (at first, they can't believe it, but walkmen, leg warmers, and a Michael Jackson who's still black clinch it). The temptation is to muck with the past (it's the weekend, for instance, that Adam broke up with one-that-got-away Jenny Stedmeyer), but concerned about "the butterfly effect," they pledge to relive their past experiences instead of trying to change them. Not all goes according to plan, of course, but the universe has a way of protecting itself—good news for Jacob, who shows signs of fading out of existence if the old guys step out of line. This Back to the Future-esque plot development gets a nod in the casting of that film's George McFly as this film's one-armed bellhop, the butt of a sorta funny running gag. Meanwhile, the out-of-time presence of the 21st-century the Russian Red Bull, Chernobly, sparks a Red Dawn-style panic among the ski-resort preppie-jerks (led by Sebastian Stan).
The personal drama isn't very convincing, even with the introduction of a fresh love interest for Adam: Spin Magazine writer April (Lizzy Caplan). This sort of music-loving man-child business feints at bringing the picture in line with previous collaborations by Cusack and director Steve Pink (Grosse Pointe Blank, High Fidelity), and the invitation to introspection about empty American lives is a good idea, but who are we kidding? Hot Tub Time Machine is built for gross gags (like ripping off a catheter and spraying pee) and wan '80s nostalgia (Winterfest '86 headliner Poison, Chevy Chase as a mystical maintenance man—how can we miss them if they won't go away?). Robinson's sensitive Nick comes the closest to being likeable (and, as the former lead singer of "Chocolate Lipstick," he gets a big musical number), but all of the characters are either jerks or idiots to some degree (some are both), which makes it difficult to invest in their redemptive rediscovery of self and friendship. At its best, Hot Tub Time Machine takes advantage of the stars' nice rapport. It's hard to hate a picture that gets in a dig at Wild Hogs, but methinks it doth protest too much.
Hot Tub Time Machine comes home in a two-disc Blu-ray + Digital Copy edition from MGM. The disc includes both the Theatrical Version and an Unrated Version, but be aware that the Unrated Version only adds about a minute and a half to the run time. The hi-def transfer offers excellent detail and texture, solid contrast, and brilliant color (the better to show off those leg-warmers); contrast and shadow detail are also pleasing. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix isn't the most dynamic around when it comes to surround immersion, but it does leap to life whenever pop music crops up, and one senses that the disc maximizes the source material for a definitive lossless presentation.
Bonus features are a bit slim, but we do get a welcome suite of nine "Deleted Scenes" (11:48, HD) that actually comprises deleted and alternate scenes, as well as some "line-o-rama."
We also get the "Theatrical Trailer" (2:26, HD).
Four "Theatrical Promotional Spots" (6:29 with "Play All" option, HD) are worth checking out, as they include EPK-style interviews with John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Clark Duke, Craig Robinson, Chevy Chase, costume designer Dayna Pink, and Crispin Glover.
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