The marketing of Hot Tub Time Machine flatly pushes the high-concept nature of its premise like it was going out of style, although it apparently endures with some success; consider the case of Snakes on a Plane (2006) and its great-grandfathers, Jaws and Star Wars. And here it seems to have worked too. At the preview screening I attended, only half a row of seats was filled by members of the press in a full theater. And in the movie, when regular dude Nick (Craig Robinson) uttered the titular line earlier than I expected, audience members said the words right along with him. Out loud. You all get a raise, marketing department.
About 99% of the film’s plot points and gags do find their basis in time travel, as they must. Some happily incorporate a clever self-consciousness to the business of sending up bro film tropes. But most rely on going there — typically to the grossest, barfiest, cringiest possible boundary and beyond, supposedly like the gag that sets up a situation in which second regular dude Lou (Rob Corddry) is forced to fellate best friend Nick in front of everyone to satisfy a bet gone wrong. It gets the biggest, most enthusiastic EWW! laugh of the night. While the tendency toward supreme gross-out humor in bro-centric comedies is already boring and questionable, the additional element of why it’s even considered funny to perpetuate homophobia in the Big Book of Movie Jokes is inexplicable. What’s the point of aggressively setting up a homosexual act as the pinnacle of nausea if not for subversion? Are there no other jokes? Did we run out? There are also jokes involving the pussification of any male man who deigns to take his wife’s last name in hyphenation with his own. The implication that these jokes are among the most universally relatable comic motifs is maddening.
Beyond the time warp, there is a little more to the story. The regular dudes in question — Adam (John Cusack), Lou, and Nick — all suffer from disappointment with their deflated adult realities. Adam’s girlfriend leaves him; Lou is an incorrigible, suicidal substance abusing asshole; and Nick gave up his rock star dreams for a bummer dog-washing business (called ‘Sup Dawg, for which I was grateful). With the exception of Adam’s nephew Jacob (Clarke Duke), who was conceived in the 1986 they revisit, the three are granted a do-over for one particular night in their young lives. Why? Because youth is wasted on the young? Because life never works out the way we expect? Because we should always follow our dreams? Who knows, but HTTM has plenty of talent to keep us from thinking about it too intensely: Corddry was a Daily Show correspondent, trained in Upright Citizens Brigade Theater improv and has a show on Adult Swim coming out this year; Robinson’s got The Office; and Cusack’s been an actual movie heartthrob since around when HTTM is partially set.
In other words, all Hot Tub Time Machine really has to do to succeed at a basic level is to generate the amount of hype expected from it, which it already seems to have done. The cast members do carry their parts and the comedy bits well, and a respectable portion of the jokes find inventive ways to play with the injection of our 2010 into a 1980s world that the presumed demographic will either know from experience (It’s funny because it’s true!) or from frequent viewings of VH1’s “I Love the 80s.” But Hot Tub Time Machine doesn’t really stretch the limits of its one-dimensional premise’s gag potential. (Did I mention there is a Wild Hogs joke?) Still, setting itself up to be “so stupid it’s genius,” as a Huffington Post review noted, is certainly one way to avoid boner-killing criticism of its jokes about fags, sluts, pussy-ass bros, squirrels, and jocks. So how could it possibly fail?