The first thing people are going to compare Hot Tub Time Machine to is The Hangover. I’ve already done it in passing, but that’s also kind of a lazy comparison. Then again, it’s hard not to compare the two films, so I’m just going to flat-out compare them.
Both star ensemble casts. Both feature actors from The Office. Both are raunchy, definitely adult R-rated comedies, and by adult I don’t just mean in content. I mean they’re about adults, who have adult problems, and who just really want to recapture the freedom and fun of youth once more. They do this figuratively in The Hangover, with a last-gasp-of-bachelorhood trip to Vegas, and literally in Hot Tub Time Machine.
Adam (John Cusack), Nick (Craig Robinson) and Lou (Rob Corddry) are the kind of guys who peaked in high school. They’ve gone from wild party animals with great hair to doughy, balding, and miserable middle-aged men. As for Adam’s nephew Jacob (Clark Duke), he’s the sort of pudgy, MMORPG-playing kid who’ll never peak, high school or not. After Lou’s suicide attempt which might not be a suicide attempt, the three old friends (and their tagalong) decide to head to the place where they had some of their best moments, Kodiak Valley.
Unfortunately, when they get to Kodiak Valley, they find the place they once remembered is now, like them, a run-down old dump whose only notable feature is a surly one-armed bellhop (Crispin Glover) and a hot tub. Still, there’s a hot tub, and Lou brought booze, so it’s time to party, male bonding style! The next thing you know, they’re waking up and it’s 1986 all over again where the guys face a decision: change the future for the better, or stay the course and lead their screwed-up lives?
The standout star of The Hangover was Zach Galifianakis, who stood out as the fascinatingly weird Alan. It was easier to stand out then, because he had very few known commodities to act alongside. That makes Rob Corddry’s turn in Hot Tub Time Machine more impressive, because he’s squaring off against John Cusack and Craig Robinson (himself a renowned scene-stealing comic actor).
Clark Duke gets his moments as well. It’s a fairly even comedy, in terms of all the actors getting something to do, and they all have good moments given to them. However, Corddry’s Lou the Violator is probably the Frank The Tank of this film, for much the same reasons.
The script, by Josh Heald and Sean Anders and John Morris (who also did Sex Drive and She’s Out Of My League), is as profanely amusing (and mildly homophobic) as you’d expect from something getting so many comparisons to The Hangover. This time around it’s not as shocking, but it’s still pretty funny.
The 80s settings are also very fun, as is the brief nod to John Cusack’s romantic comedy career in his brief preternatural courtship with the lovely and quirky April (Lizzie Caplan). There are some elements of cliché there, but it’s classic 80s-style cliché, right down to the evil ski instructor types versus the misfits.
The direction, from the mostly-unknown Steve Pink, is nothing special. The movie moves along pretty well, with no real slow-downs, and there’s some good intercutting between the various stories presented as the characters go about their return to 1986 (or in Clark Duke’s case, attempting to keep himself being born). The jokes are evenly spread throughout the movie, and the visual jokes are as funny (or funnier) than the verbal jokes. It doesn’t overstay its welcome, which is more than you can say for a lot of movies.
So, is it funnier than The Hangover? No, it’s not. Is it as funny as The Hangover? Unfortunately, no. But that’s not a knock on Hot Tub Time Machine, as it’s still a really funny comedy (especially if you remember the 80s and various 80s movies) with some great performances from a lot of good comedy actors. It’s a worthy addition to the non-Judd Apatow Guy Comedy pantheon.