Feel like repealing everything that’s happened in the last couple of weeks? The new movie Hot Tub Time Machine takes that idea and runs with it. What if we repealed the last couple of decades? What if Reagan was still president, girls with massively teased hair wore color-block outfits, and Spandau Ballet was the makeout music of choice?
Hot Tub isn’t the funniest movie since The Hangover — it’s funnier. It makes comedy stars out of career character actors Rob Corddry (The Heartbreak Kid) and Craig Robinson (The Office). It even makes John Cusack likable, mainly because, in giving him the role of Adam, a broken-down middle-aged loser whose girlfriend dumps him and takes their TV with her, it scuffs him up a little.
Robinson plays Nick, another nobody — he plays a guy who works with dogs, one of whom features in the first of the movie’s several sensationally funny gross-out gags — who once wanted to be a musician. Nick and Adam’s friend Lou, aka “The Violator” (an outstanding Corddry) is the biggest loser of the three, attempting suicide while listening to Motley Crue in his car.
Together with Adam’s nerdy 20-something nephew (Clark Duke), the guys try to pull themselves together with a visit to the ski resort where, in the mid-80s, they spent some of the happiest weekends of their lives. “We were young, we had momentum, we were winning,” says Cusack, regretfully. Too bad now the place smells like cats and its only bellhop (Crispin Glover) is a one-armed psychotic. How exactly he lost that arm is the source of the best running gag in a movie that’s full of them.
Glover’s presence — he’s also in theaters with Alice in Wonderland, though he doesn’t do much with that part — is one of many shout-outs to Back to the Future, whose plot clearly inspired this movie. After the four guys get in a hot tub … well, you can figure out what happens. Robinson gets to deliver the Snakes on a Plane-caliber title line, and when the friends notice that everyone in the ski resort is dressed strangely, that MTV is still playing videos, and Ronald Reagan is the undisputed leader of the free world, Nick turns to one fellow skier to ask one simple question that will determine whether they’ve really gone back in time: “What color is Michael Jackson?”
As the guys deal with a ghostly, mysterious hot-tub mechanic (Chevy Chase) and try to figure out how to get back to 2010, they decide they have to do everything exactly as they would have in 1986, lest a small change have a “butterfly effect” that totally changes the future. But Adam begins to reconsider whether he should have broken up with the girl of his dreams (and meets a cute reporter from Spin he never met the first time around), Nick gives his career as a singer one more shot, and Lou wants another chance to win his fight with the bullies who beat him down last time they met. Adam’s nephew, though, isn’t cool with any of this: he figures he must have been conceived on this very weekend, and he might not even get to exist if the others change things too much.
The plot and its implications are as cleverly handled as they were in Back to the Future, but what really makes the movie a classic is the absurd situations and the raunchy dialogue, a nonstop stream of insults and dirty jokes. Among the most memorable bits are the best bodily-fluids gag since There’s Something About Mary, a scene in which the Robinson character calls his wife to accuse her of infidelity (although, this being 1986, his future bride is only nine years old), a bet on a famous John Elway football game that turns out surprisingly, and a hilarious subplot about Red Dawn-loving tough guys (with feathered hair, of course) who decide that the four dudes from the future must be Soviet moles. After all, among the gang’s possessions is a Russian energy drink that the bullies think must be some sort of bomb in a can.
Call it a time-travel story, a potent reflection on middle-aged regrets, a buddy movie, a frat comedy in the tradition of Old School — Hot Tub Time Machine is a big winner on every score, a comedy full of soul.