Two concepts lend themselves to close critical analysis in the matter of the agreeably raunchy, rude, retro Spring Break 2010 comedy Hot Tub Time Machine: (1) the hot tub and (2) the time machine. Perhaps little needs to be said about the hot tub, except that since humankind first walked the earth, the act of submerging one’s naked body in warm, bubbling water in an open-air setting (traditionally while enjoying an alcoholic beverage) has always been linked to dreams of getting it on.
Much can be said about the time machine, on the other hand, all boiled down to the truth that, in comedies, time travel is classically linked to?more dreams of getting it on. Those hurtled forward in time — especially kids-turned-adults, as with Big or 13 Going on 30 — allow us to laugh, safely, at the juvenile, hilarious side of such unwieldy grown-up activity. And those hurtled in chronological reverse — as with Back to the Future or the doofusy high-concept Hot Tub Time Machine — allow us to laugh, safely, at the brain-searing notion that our parents once, you know, Did It, and that’s how we’re here now, thinking about sex.
Yet even with Doing It on its little mind, Hot Tub Time Machine reaches for greater cultural relevance, inviting both those who lived through the ’80s and those who weren’t yet born then to laugh, safely, at sex in that decade. The giggles over bad hair and worse fashions are sweetened by casting famous-since-the-’80s John Cusack as one of a quartet of accidental tourists zoomed back to a 1986 winterfest in a ski town where three out of the four once partied hard. Cusack is a dissatisfied fortysomething whose girlfriend has dumped him. But at least he’s not a self-destructive, harddrinking screwup like his buddy Lou (The Daily Show alum Rob Corddry). Nor is he a deadender with a cheating wife like his buddy Nick (The Office’s Craig Robinson). And he’s got a life, unlike his virginal computer-addicted nephew Jacob (Clark Duke from the excellent Web comedy series Clark and Michael). Jacob, not yet born in 1986, becomes a one-man New Gen Greek chorus, observing the behavior of his elders — and glimpsing his mother-to-be as, ewww, a horny chick. As a timeless gift, Back to the Future’s inimitable, unclassifiable Crispin Glover plays a hotel bellhop whose right arm is as crucial to the story as Doc Brown’s DeLorean is to Future.
As the movie is plotted, the cosmic hot-tub malfunction that sends these time travelers reeling allows the guys to tweak the past — thus rejiggering the present and letting them return as happier adults. (The nephew gets a life, too.) Which is nice and all, but kind of square. Also, I wish the screenwriters had been 2010-minded enough to leave out the crappy gay jokes. Then again, as directed by Cusack’s longtime pal and collaborator Steve Pink, and performed with manic energy by this guys-among-guys cast, the movie bops and honks. With sharp riffs on the intersection of ’80s pop culture (ALF, Kid ‘N Play, Ronald Reagan!) and 21st-century culture (Twitter, Viagra, Second Life!), this Time Machine is a fun dip into a pool of memories that are best forgotten again once the booze wears off. B