So quick, “Back to the Future” meets “The Hangover.”
You pretty much have to get that thought out of the way before discussing “Hot Tub Time Machine,” a film that deserves an Oscar for its title alone.
Famously Howard Hawks designed Rio Bravo as a response to “High Noon,” a film he couldn’t stand. You get the feeling that director Steve Pink and writer-by-committee Josh Heald, Sean Anders and John Morris are up to the same thing, whether intentionally or accidentally. Didn’t I call “The Hangover” the Death of the American Comedy? Raunchily smart, appealingly dumb, and willing to take it the whole nine outrageous yards, “Hot Tub Time Machine” might be at least a little bit of a rebirth.
Consider the similarities:
* Four friends take a bonding trip. The four friends are the above-it all asshole (John Cusack here), the henpecked emasculee (Craig Robinson), the antisocial nut (Rob Cordry), annnnnnnnnd … and .. and .. somebody else (Clark Duke as the geeky teenage nephew).
* Each film has a last-hurrah trip that turns into a wild and crazy weekend. In “The Hangover,” it’s a Vegas Bachelor Party trip that goes to hell when they lose the groom-to-be after a forgotten night of hard partying. In “Hot Tub Time Machine” a visit to a California ski resort goes haywire when a drunken night of hot-tub partying transports them back to spandex-filled 1986 to relive events.
With that in mind, “Hot Tub Time Machine” does exactly what it should do–it takes all of “The Hangover’s” problems and corrects them.
* By having the men drugged or sleeping through the experience, “The Hangover” becomes a film of mild reaction shots rather than outrageous events. It’s a lot more fun to actually watch the zaniness in “Hot Tub Time Machine” than to have people tell you about it afterward.
* “The Hangover” thinks it’s wild, but never actually gets there. “Hot Tub Time Machine” gets crazier and crazier and weirder and weirder until everyone is winking and nodding at its silly premise because it’s too much fun not to.
* “The Hangover” takes its running gag – the lost baby – and surrenders it. Oh, it’s your baby? Here’s your baby. The running gag in “Hot Tub Time Machine” is how the bellhop loses his arm, which it keeps teasing, maybe one or two times too many, but at least it doesn’t give it up without a punchline.
* While not exactly overwhelming emotionally, it does bite down just a bit on the nostalgia, helped by the presence of Cusack returning to the 1980s when he was a big teenage star.
* While it made me smile a lot, “The Hangover” made me laugh less than ten times, and three of them were during the Ed Helms piano song. The quick-witted raunchiness of “Hot Tub Time Machine” basically jumps on you on the floor and tickles you to death laughing, even when you think you shouldn’t.
The result is that “Hot Tub Time Machine” becomes the film that I kept reading that “The Hangover” was. And now that I’ve managed to avoid calling it “a whirlpool of laughs” let me suggest it is worth a view.