There’s a lot of love for the 80s at the moment. In the movie world this means a load of remakes of popular films and TV programmes from the period, with The Karate Kid and The A-Team the latest to undergo 2010 makeovers. So, it’s fitting that the latest comedy from long-term collaborators John Cusack and Steve Pink, Hot Tub Time Machine, taps right into this love for the decade.
Timing-wise, it also follows last year’s massively successful bromantic comedy, The Hangover. Although wary of making any lazy comparisons, the two do share a number of similarities: a bunch of guys head off for a hedonistic weekend of male bonding and booze in an effort to escape from their middle-aged lives. Three are long-time friends. Adam (John Cusack) is the ‘sensible’ one, Lou (Rob Corddry) is the obnoxious idiot, and Nick (Craig Robinson), the browbeaten husband. The quartet is completed by Adam’s geeky nephew, Jacob (Clark Duke), who spends most of his time in Second Life in Adam’s basement.
Seeking to capture some of the recklessness of youth, the group take off for a local ski resort, burned into the guys’ memories as a magical place of teenage pleasure-seeking and wild parties. Like the guys, however, the ski lodge hasn’t aged so well. Nevertheless, following a drunken evening in a hot tub, they awake to find themselves magically transported back in time to Winterfest ’86, a life changing weekend for the friends.
After overcoming initial shock at their situation, the four remember the first rule of time travel: Don’t do or say anything that can accidentally alter the course of history. You know, like in Back To The Future?
I mention Back To The Future, as the movie seems to invite the obvious comparison, reinforced by a cameo by George McFly himself (Crispin Glover), and several recurring plot similarities. (Chevy Chase also occasionally pops up as the mysterious Repair Man, whose purpose seems only to confuse the main characters.)
Nevertheless, the guys realise they must act like their eighteen-year-old selves, which is great news for Lou, who sees it as opportunity for him to grab some of the action he’s missing out on in middle age. He also attempts the familiar time-travel scam of predicting the results of sports games, resulting in a funny yet gross-out moment orchestrated by the ultimate eighties class bully, William Zabka (The Karate Kid’s Johnny Lawrence.)
There is a romantic side storyline around John Cusack and a female music journalist (Lizzy Caplan) but the real emphasis is on the guys’ relationships, who are all, in their own ways, lovable losers who are offered a chance to change their lives.
The move is, of course, part homage to the ultimate 80s teen hero, Cusack. I came to the film with huge amounts of goodwill as a massive fan of Cusack and particularly his early movies, The Sure Thing and Say Anything. Also Better Off Dead and One Crazy Summer. Yeah, I have a thing for Cusack. So, it was great to occasionally see glimpses of that trench-coated, non-conformist outsider in Hot Tub, even if sometimes I couldn’t work out which side of the fence this film falls on for John “I’ve made 10 good films” Cusack. There were times when I thought he just looked a bit embarrassed by it all.
Despite there being holes in the plot the size of a rip in the space-time continuum, and that much of the comedy is based on the fact that people in the eighties used to have big hair and Michael Jackson used to be black, Hot Tub is a fun movie. It is a particularly enjoyable night out if you are of a certain age, and you have fond memories of the decade, and its heroes.
Hot Tub Time Machine opens in UK cinemas today. US correspondent Ron Hogan’s review is here.