On December 31st, 1989, I was twelve years old. So I can’t really claim to know much about the ’80s; the decade when I really became aware of pop culture, and culture in general, was the next one. Most of what I know is from vague memories– I remember Oliver North and ALF, though I certainly didn’t understand the signficance of either– and from the movies. Films like “The Breakfast Club” and “Top Gun” tell me what the ’80s were like, while films like “The Wedding Singer” and “Napoleon Dynamite” show me how the people who lived through them – and were older than 12– choose to remember them. “Hot Tub Time Machine” falls into that latter category, with one significant twist; there’s in addition to the bittersweet, whimsical nostalgia is the harsh observation that in many ways, the ’80s really sucked. Reagan and AIDS, hedonism and materialism, cocaine and Motley Crue — in fact, it may be that the reason why so many 40-somethings are so miserable in 2010 is because they came of age, their values and character were formed, in the miserable ’80s.
John Cusack is the most recognizable cast member in “Hot Tub Time Machine,” and he’s playing a older version of Lloyd Dobler, an ’80s icon in his own right. To my recollection, Cusack has never really played anything but an older version of Lloyd Dobler – always trying to avoid buying anything, selling anything, or processing anything as a career, always looking for a girl to listen to records with. Funny thing is, it never gets old.
His friends are Craig Robinson, a mostly happily married man who used to be a soul singer but now works at a dog grooming service named “‘Sup Dawg,” and Rob Corddry, who may well be both the most miserable man on the planet and the biggest jerk. Corrddy plays his character like he’s dragging his nails across a chalkboard; there’s no effort to make this man lovable, or pitiable, or enjoyable. This is on purpose. He is the embodiment of all the worst of the ’80s, gone to seed, fermented, and actively decaying in the new millenium. Along to provide a counterpoint – or perhaps to show that nothing much has changed– is Clark Duke, who wasn’t even born in the ’80s. He spends his time living in his uncle’s basement, playing Second Life. His Second Life character is in prison. Weep for our youth.
Following a botched suicide attempt by Corddry (really, wouldn’t everyone have been happier?) the trio of friends plus one travel to a ski lodge where they once — in the ’80s — had epic times. As the title suggests, they get into a hot tub and travel back in time, to 1986. Back in the era of prodigious cocaine and ski resort sexcapades, their primary concern is to get back to their miserable, empty lives in 2010, so they make a plan to do everything exactly the way they did it in 1986, lest they invoke “the butterfly effect” and change something about their miserable, empty future lives. This means Cusack has to break up with his girlfriend–the girl, 25 years later, he wishes he had never broken up with– Corddry has to get beaten up by the ski patrol guy who thinks he’s the bad guy in “Karate Kid,” and Robinson has to have sex with a groupie. Suprisingly, Robinson is the most reluctant, because he’s a happily married man, and doesn’t want to cheat on his wife – who is nine years old in 1986. He cries his way through coitus. This is not your typical stupid spring comedy.
And yet, in so many ways, this is your typical stupid spring comedy. “Hot Tub Time Machine” is nothing if not raunchy, tasteless, gross, and outrageous. There’s an overload of F-bombs, boobs, and at least two sequences that are just too gross to be funny. The plot is manic, ridiculous, all over the place, and insane. The one nice thing I can say about it is that it’s not formulaic; the screenwriters of “HTTM” achieve their inanity without any help from anyone. I can’t call this a good movie; it’s light years away from good. The only thing that saves it from the trash heap of typical stupid spring comedies is the feeling of melancholy – and yes, disgust and regret– it brings to the game of nostalgia and recall. Maybe the past wasn’t as great as we remember it. And maybe who we are now has something to do with the ways we lived then. That’s a sobering sentiment buried in a movie abounding in sex and poop jokes.