Directed by: Steve Pink
Written by: Josh Heald, Jarrad Paul, Sean Anders
Starring: John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Clark Duke, Chevy Chase, Collette Wolfe, Crystal Lowe, Crispin Glover, Lizzy Caplan, Kellee Stewart, Lyndsy Fonseca
Released: 2010 / Genre: Fantasy-comedy / Country: USA / IMDB
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Anyone who remembers John Cusack’s Lloyd Dobler looking for love in Cameron Crowe’s brilliant coming of age tale Say Anything from 1989 may also recall the actor’s array of romantic mishaps from the 80s like The Sure Thing, Better Off Dead and One Crazy Summer. In Steve Pink’s Hot Tub Time Machine he returns to the decade that made him a star. The film not only gets the nostalgia butterflies fluttering but takes the Illinois-born actor back to the genre, and crucially the period of the genre, that almost feels his own.
Indeed, Pink is more concerned with celebrating teen pop culture of the 1980s, and by extension the world’s of Savage Steve Holland, Rob Reiner, John Hughes et al, than mapping out the blueprint for great drama. There’s nothing original on show – neither in character or plot. The black hole that swallows up the modern suburbanites and deposits them 25 years in the past could be a metaphor for the gaping inadequacies in the plot. But, as soon as you see Chevy Chase turn up as a fantastical hot tub mechanic, or a one-armed Crispin Glover shunting bags around the hotel, coupled with a soundtrack featuring David Bowie, The Replacements, Spandau Ballet, New Order and Talking Heads, you know there’s a treat in store.
John Cusack’s Adam returns home to find his girlfriend has moved out and taken pretty much every mod-con in the house. It appears their relationship has hit a rocky patch that may just be fatal. Likewise, friends Lou (Rob Corddry) and Nick (Craig Robinson) are having trouble of their own. Lou tries to commit suicide while Nick is unhappy because he believes his wife is having an affair and he finds his job undermining. The three men, along with Adam’s nephew Jacob (Clark Duke), head to the site of their most memorable weekends together – the Kodiak Valley Ski Resort. It was here that they met their first loves, partied all night, and enjoyed life to the fullest. But they, like the resort itself, have aged. No longer are they the party animals they once were with a care-free attitude about life built on youthful dreams and aspirations. Now they are nine to five nobodies who have seen the rigours of growing up in all its debilitating glory. Their beloved resort is decrepit and in need of repair, as are they.
But during a drunken night when the three men try to rekindle the fun they have not experienced in years culminates in an illegal Russian energy drink being spilt on the hot tub’s control unit, their lives are changed forever. They wake up to find they have been magically transported back to 1986. They see themselves as their older selves but to everyone else they look like teenagers. They have been given a second chance – Adam remembers breaking up with the beautiful Jennie (Lyndsy Fonseca) and getting stabbed in the eye; Lou got beaten up by a bully; and Nick, who was in a band, put in a poor vocal performance during the gig of his life.
Hot Tub Time Machine is about what ifs. Instigated by that classic 1980s fantasy Back To The Future, the film looks at our response to being given a second chance where we feel a decision made in the past has negatively impacted on our future existence. It’s a wonderfully endearing conceit because it plays on regret, that inherent human condition that afflicts everyone from time to time. What makes the idea much more powerful is how a simple change can have a huge, and hopefully, positive impact on our lives. Hot Tube Time Machine may never exploit the concept with as much existential sophistication as Donnie Darko or as dramatically as Back To The Future, but it plays on it with a sense of fun and a witty script that propels its 90 minute story way beyond mediocrity.
The fact it marries the self-referential reaction of its characters to their newly acquired youth with an audience craving big hair and huge mobile phones is its greatest attribute. There’s the brilliant confirmation that they have travelled back to the 1980s when Nick says to a young girl: “Excuse me miss, what colour is Michael Jackson.” Away from celebrating the decade, the script rarely misses a chance to amuse. I was very fond of the sub-plot involving Crispin Glover’s arm. When the group get to the holiday lodge in the present day they find the Crispin Glover’s hotel porter is missing an arm. When they travel back in time, the much younger Glover has his arm intact. Cue many mishaps involving near misses with chainsaws and other impaling/cutting devices as the friends wonder what actually occurs to cause the hapless bellhop’s arm to come off.
Of course director Steve Pink’s almost arbitrary time travel logic leaves a little to be desired and there’s an infuriating sense that he could have probed his character’s reactionary response to being thrust into the decade of their youth with more gusto. But it doesn’t seem to matter when the laughs keep coming and New Order’s Bizarre Love Triangle erupts from the soundtrack. You can also forgive it for one of the most overtly happy endings you’ll ever see. Originality might be out the window but then again this is a throwback to a far simpler period for mainstream American cinema. There might be nothing new to see here but when it is all so joyfully familiar (in its setting and its sentiment) there’s very little not to like.
Review by Daniel Stephens – See all reviews