Starring: John Cusack, Clark Duke, Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, Chevy Chase, Crispin Glover
Director: Steve Pink
Writer(s): Josh Heald, Sean Anders
Cinematography: Jack N. Green
Original Score: Christophe Beck
Running Time: 100 Mins.
John Cusack is very much a product of the 80’s, not that he was born then, about a decade or two too old for that littoral deduction, rather he is and will always be associated with his 80’s successes, in the same way that the brat pack will always find their career’s epitomised by their 80’s output. So for Cusack to star in a film where a group of friends find themselves sucked back into the decade of glam-rock, russian paranoia and leg warmers is really a no-brainer, a formula that should add up to, at the very least, a great return to his true comedic roots by Cusack in a film helmed by he behind High Fidelity and Grosse Point Blank.
Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly given the film’s title, this is not a witty and soul-searching piece of dark humour a la High Fidelity/Grosse Point Blank and more akin to the 80’s frat boy comedies such as Porky’s and Animal House, though substitute teens for three middle-aged men all facing their own crises and you have the recipe for something along the lines of The Hangover meets Back to the Future (another 80’s classic). Of course it is no surprise given the success of The Hangover last summer that someone has cottoned onto the fact that a comedy starring a group of friends, older than 18, on a jaunt away is a recipe for box office bling.
That said comedies of this nature live or die on their central performances, and thankfully Hot Tub Time Machine boasts a quartet of amusing turns, the fourth member being Adam’s (Cusack) nephew a 20-year-old along for the ride to provide some perspective for anyone young enough not to have the requisite 80’s based knowledge. Quite frankly had you not yet guessed the plot from the title alone you really are too dumb to understand the rest of the film, to embellish too much about what travelling back in time via said Hot Tub involves would rob you of much that there is to enjoy. Suffice to say there is little here that hasn’t been done before but the interplay between the friends belies said lack of originality and provides enough laugh out loud moments to mark it out from the glut of mediocre gross-out comedies that flood our screens.
Cusack harks back to his heyday with great verve and while the friends don’t have quite as much “chemistry” as their Hangover counterpart’s did there is a lot to be said for the fun they all appear to be having with each character having their own hilarious highpoint. The star of the show however is Craig Robinson, building on a great turn in Kevin Smith’s Zack and Miri Make a Porno he mines the same affable loser schtick but when you’re that good at being funny doing it, who’s to blame him for repeating the success, albeit with a touch more tenderness and characterisation.
The 80’s based jokes come thick and fast meaning this punches above the normal comedy weight of teen comedies with many jokes likely to go over the heads of your average 15-year-old, for example the casting of Chevy Chase and Crispin Glover will mean very little to those unfamiliar with Back to the Future or the National Lampoon films. This though is not necessarily a bad thing and means that the comedy is spread broad taking in all comedy styles, body swap, gross out, slapstick, innuendo…you name it Hot Tub Time Machine has it.
However while this scatter-shot approach works when wringing out laughs from the concept, it cannot paper over the cracks of the disjointed plot and an overall mediocre script, jokes unfortunately do not make for rounded characters you care for (with the exception of Robinson). Cusack is likeable as ever and The Daily SHow vet Corddry is funny as the slob of the group the event that brings them together is lame and every occurence relies on contrivance upon contrivance, so while it is the goal of a comedy to make you laugh, which this does, it must also raise the bar a little higher with a cleverer script and more memorable characters otherwise it will fail the ultimate comedy test, the ability to be entertaining and ultimately as funny second time around.
Hot Tub Time Machine, scatter-shot title, scatter-shot film. Consistently funny the first time round, this is very much is a one watch comedy that will not stand the test of time.