Photo courtesy of NY Times and MGM Studios. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/26/movies/26hottub.html
Remember the worst dorm party you've ever had back in college. Yeah, that one where maybe you had a little too much of any particular substance that was being passed around and things went a little too far with some of the party's participants. Now, imagine if the movie Back to the Future was playing in the background. Put that whole situation in a blender and add a hot tub just to spice up the batch.
That's pretty much the experience of watching Hot Tub Time Machine, the latest collaboration between Steve Pink and John Cusack, the minds behind High Fidelity. It doesn't try to make sense and that's the key to its success, making for one hilarious, guffaw-loudly-in-your-seat experience.
A bit of advice to dear readers: if you Netflix the following films and see them beforehand, the movie will be a whole lot more enjoyable for you: Sixteen Candles, Weird Science, The Karate Kid, Better Off Dead and Back to the Future. And that's just the ones off the top of my head - the filmmakers did their research to try to cram in as broad an array of 80s culture as possible. The movie ends up depicting the 80s not as it was, but the 80s our culture at the time wanted it to be.
Right from the get-go the movie shows that it is going to be rude, crude, and tasteless. It is a rated R, and a hard R it truly is. The jokes are completely politically incorrect, which is a plus - its rare to see anything nowadays that has such a no holds barred approach to dumping on the face of any sort of common decency. What's not a plus is the amount of homosexual jokes that fly - I know we're trying to make this 80s, but note to director Steve Pink: let's not lose sight of the fact this is a 2010 audience watching this.
The plot is pretty simple: a bunch of depressed 40-somethings (plus one nerdy teen) decide to get away to an old ski lodge, jump into a hot tub, and after a night of hard-drinking and god knows what else, they end up at Winterfest 1986. Having the original 80s boy John Cusack playing the down-and-out insurance salesman Adam with poor taste in friends makes this movie on several levels. Cusack's ability to laugh at himself allows him to be both the straight man and the comic relief in this film. He also seems so happy to not be playing another "serious" movie role and just get to roll with the boys. Adam's pals include Lou (Rob Corddry) who becomes the hero in the weirdest of ways, and Nick (Craig Robinson) who are good foils for each other - Nick is the soft, sensitive man and Lou is the loud obnoxious jerk. One memorable quote from the film Nick says in regards to Lou: "He's an asshole, but he's our asshole." Chevy Chase has a small role as the jaw-droppingly unfunny hot tub repair man, who thankfully vanishes soon after he appears.
Beyond the feel-good nostalgia trips, from the music to the aforementioned movie and TV references, what I enjoyed most about this film was it showed people behaving as they truly are, for better or worse. Clark Duke, who plays Cusack's nephew Jacob, gets increasingly frustrated as he sees his elders acting like total idiots. Creepy old man Chevy warns the older guys they all must do exactly what they did during 1986 and not deviate from the path, lest the future be changed for good. As that plan goes out the window for each one of them, Jacob resigns himself to stop trying to make sense of it all, go with the flow, and hope for the best. I have often found myself in that very situation, trying to keep a group together when ultimately all the individuals want to go off and make their own bad choices.
We, the audience, are in Jacob's shoes as we watch this weirdly entertaining pastiche of 80s culture. Don't think too hard about what might be simmering in that hot tub. Just jump in and enjoy the ride.