The name says it all. With just those four words, you can pretty much figure out everything you need to know about Hot Tub Time Machine. This is very much a party film in the tradition of the Saturday Night Live alumni movies of the 70’s and 80’s. With the release of this movie, you no longer need to travel back in time to 1986 to watch a film that relies almost entirely on sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll for most of its situational comedy. The rest gets filled in with your standard toilet humor. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, or who exactly I should blame, but at some point filmmakers decided that the only way to elicit laughter was to gross you out. Before long a sort of Hollywood arms race had started. Each new film had as its primary mission the objective to out-gross the ones that came before. If you wish to measure success on that axiom, Hot Tub Time Machine is a very successful movie.
Meet four guys who are in a desperate need to get a life. Adam (Cusack) has just lost his live-in girlfriend. It seems she took a lot of the good stuff, including the television, with her. Nick (Robinson) was once a promising local musician with a loving wife. Now his wife is cheating on him, and he works at a doggie spa named Sup Dawg removing crap from rich folks’ constipated dogs. Lou (Corddry) is divorced, broke, and alone. While getting carried away listening to a rock song on the car stereo, Lou almost kills himself in a closed garage with the car running. His friends, who really don’t even like him that much, had long since abandoned him. Now that they think he tried to commit suicide, they get guilted into taking him out for a good time. Together with Adam’s geek nephew Jacob (Duke), they decide to go back to the location of their glory years of youth, a ski camp. Of course, a lot has changed in 25 years. The place is now a ghost-town dump. On the bright side, their hotel room comes equipped with a hot tub. The four guys party hard and into the night. When they wake up, the place is packed and jumping like it was in the good old days of Winterfest 1986. There’s a good reason for the change. The hot tub has transported them back to 1986 into the bodies of their younger selves. Their good times are hampered by the appearance of a cryptic hot tub repairman (Chase) who appears to know what’s going on. He warns them that if they change anything, there could be dire consequences. Jacob’s worried that he might not even be born.
Of course, like all good (and bad apparently) time travel movies, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Whatever they do only gets them deeper in trouble. Still, it allows the estranged friends to bond once again as they each decide what the past means to them and how they feel about their adult life. I would say that it’s a journey of discovery, but mostly all I discovered was a lot of middle aged guys’ rear ends and the same old tired bodily function jokes. To be fair, the film has its moments of genuine comedy, but they are too few and far between to make this one a repeat on my future playlist.
The premise is a little clever and could have been quite inventive and funny. But the movie spends its premise creativity by going where almost every party comedy has been before. The characters are actually interesting when they don’t descend into the same kinds of characters we’ve seen so many times before. There are some clever tie-ins to the Back To The Future films, including a rather humorous series of cameos by that franchise’s Crispin Glover. I wanted this one to be new and original. I really did. Now all I wish I could do is jump into my own hot tub time machine and put a stop to this disaster before some studio executive gave it a green light, likely after a few too many drinks, or worse.
Hot Tub Time Machine is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC/MPEG-4 codec at an average of about 33 mbps. You would think that with a solid bit rate and such a recent film this would be a pretty tight high-definition image presentation. I was very disappointed in both the lack of detail and apparent softness of the image. Black levels are barely fair. Close-ups particularly disappoint. What you see often looks almost out of focus at times. I can’t tell you if any of this is indicative of the original film or just a poor transfer. If you like the film, it will still look better than an average DVD, but nothing about this image is going to blow you away. I kind of thought I was back in 1986…
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is another disappointment. For a party film, the musical cues are so far in the background that I could hardly tell what was playing at times. And there were a lot of power ballads. Even dialog doesn’t cut through here. Once again, this might have been a solid DVD, but we’re talking uncompressed sound here. It’s more than a little limp.
Deleted Scenes/Outtakes: (11:48) Some of these scenes are in the unrated version.
This could have been a great film. I know that sounds a bit out there, but think about it. This movie could have taken a much more effective path. There is so much potential in this premise. Like Back To The Future, there are some clever paradox issues that could have been better explored. It would have been far better to have these guys exist along with their younger selves rather than by jumping into their own 1986 bodies. Think of the nostalgia that could have been played out here that ends up wasted on one-liners like a reference to Michael Jackson’s skin tone in 1986. This could have been a wonderful personal awakening film with familiar moments that might bring that longing smile to those of us who really remember the 80’s. Instead, the film takes the easy way out at almost every turn. Only the brief Chevy Chase moments hold a glimpse of what the film could have been. It just needed a subtle touch here and there. “One little change has a ripple effect, and it effects everything else. Like a butterfly floats its wings and Tokyo explodes or there’s a tsunami, in like, you know, somewhere.”