Movie Review: Hot Tub Time Machine- Even Falls Short of the Lower End of the Totem Pole of Comedy Known as Absurd Gross Out Humor

There is no getting around the fact that Hot Tub Time Machine is just another “adultolescence” film following the success and box office triumph that was last year’s The Hangover. Everything from the motley crew (excuse the 80s pun) to the drinking to the mystery as to what is actually going on is pretty much tit for tat here in Steve Pink’s Hot Tub Time Machine. While there are momentary laughs amidst the plethora of material that could have been exploited for the culture of the 80s nothing seems at all witty or even trying to be different. The filmmakers obviously knew this formula works for the kind of film it’s trying to be and claims some enjoyable moments if not hysterical ones. This film is if The Hangover and Back to the Future had an untalented love child that was destined for mediocrity. Perhaps having John Cusack, Chevy Chase, and Crispin Glover in the film was a subconscious joke of trying to relive their better filmmaking years. Nonetheless it’s a difficult comedy to fully enjoy considering it relies solely on gross out humor and basic character developments that can be seen a mile away. Hot Tub Time Machine reminds us that if we could actually travel back in time someone would definitely need to go back and fix the generic gross out comedy formula because it actually takes a bit of wit and intelligence to do comedy this stupid successfully.

We’re clumsily introduced to our four main characters as they are obviously not living the lives they dreamed of living, eventually retreating to their 80s skiing hot spot that also has seen better days. Our first character Nick, played by “The Office” regular Craig Robertson, is a whipped veterinarian who used to be a talented musician and knows that his wife is cheating on him but is too loyal to his marriage to confront it. Our next two characters are Jacob, played by Clark Duke from internet “Clark and Michael” fame, who is living at his Uncle Adam’s place and spends most of his time on the internet in a Sim’s prison as his Uncle Adam, a seemingly bored yet willing John Cusack, is facing the aftermath of a nasty divorce. They all get brought together by an excitable and raunchy Rob Corddry as Lou, a seemingly depressed rock lover who tries to kill himself forcing his friends to come to his aid. That aid is taking a road trip to what used to be a popular skiing lodge, where a night of over drinking of alcohol and Russian energy drinks ignites a Hot Tub to time travel the four back to 1986, where they will relive the couple of days that determined their futures, including Jacob’s conception. If it all seems too far fetched it is and it doesn’t handle the consequences of time travel rather well, but then again it is a comedy and an absurd one at that so taking time travel theory seriously isn’t what is supposed to be happening here. However, Back to the Future was a comedy and handled the consequences in a much finer fashion without the gross out puking and oral sex references. As stated before, the more absurd the plot the more delicate hand needed in order to guide the chaos into coherency and Steve Pink isn’t the type of director to be able to cement appropriate joke pacing or delivery.

Writer, actor, and director Steve Pink is at the beginning of his career and it seems as though he does have time to grow. He did write High Fidelity, which as relationship films go it was well made and dealt with its intended issues incredibly well. However, as a director here on his first feature film, Hot Tub Time Machine, most of the jokes revolve around the over the top gross out humor instead of doing a delicate and successful job at joking about pop cultural aspects of the 80s. Some of that is there and perhaps we can blame screenwriters Josh Heald, Sean Anders, and John Morris for their lack of creativity and their dedication to the typical and formulaic comedies of the day. But when push comes to shove it’s director Steve Pink’s lack of ability to allow such absurdity to make sense or even deliberately funny. One should expect some incoherent comedy due to the ridiculous name helming the project, but there needs to be some delicate hands guiding it for all the jokes to land effectively. Unfortunately, Hot Tub Time Machine is a few steps down the comedic ladder of The Hangover or Animal House, which isn’t to say that those are the bull’s eye of comedic writing. There are infinitely better comedies out there that don’t get the amount of hype and marketing attention that this film does which really is only mildly entertaining at its highest points.

Luckily the cast is decently credible in their roles despite John Cusack seeming as though he acted after he was done cashing his check. Craig Robertson has a unique comedic personality that works well here as it does in “The Office,” even breaking the fourth wall for a Mel Brook’s sort of nudge and wink at the audience.Rob Corddry was always funny on “The Daily Show” and here he is humorous but is unfortunately the Zack Galifinakis character in this science fiction take on The Hangover, which is a lot to live up to. Clark Duke, while only mildly entertaining in his webisodes with Michael Cera, actually does a pretty good job holding his own amidst a vast array of known comedic actors and establishes that he can be dry and witty in comparison to his other failed comedy Sex Drive. All in all they are good presences in the film despite the rigid direction and simplistic jokes, and really the only part that had this writer going was Crispin Glover’s possibility of losing his arm the entire time. Most people will enjoy this if only for the lack of comedies in the theaters so this is practically review proof in reference to its box office possibilities, which will be mildly successful.

If Hot Tub Time Machine is even close to being on your radar for a film you must see then there is no point in listing all of its inadequacies. It is mildly enjoyable though quite low on the cerebral comedic totem pole, which focuses more on formulaic jokes and cliché characters. Nobody takes risks with comedies anymore and who can blame them since they are never rewarded for their politically incorrect or incredibly witty humor. Studios find them too difficult to market as a comedy for people who enjoy thinking during their films, where jokes are more understated than horribly obnoxious. Even on the standard of “adultolescence” humor, Hot Tub Time Machine falls drastically short from the bar set by The Hangover. The Hangover was also horribly overrated, despite its successful delivery, but that shows that Todd Phillips has a better capability at controlling his over the top comedy in comparison to the amateur Steve Pink.

Grade: C-

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