Hot Tub Time Machine

The premise of Hot Tub Time Machine is straightforward and dumb as dirt — it’s all right there in the title, give or take the finer details.

Three old friends (and a young hanger-on) head to a ski resort to recapture past glories and forget about their mediocre lives. Exactly one shit-load of booze, one illegal Russian energy drink and one mysteriously high-tech hot tub later, they awaken to find themselves not just in the ‘80s, but also in the midst of a slobs-versus-snobs comedy — like Ski School, but with three decades of hindsight.

Their role in the past and the rules for avoiding complete space-time destruction — always a worry in the paradox-laden realm of time travel — is hinted at by exasperatingly cryptic hot tub repairman Chevy Chase, who is either more knowing than he lets on, or just plain inarticulate. The more vague the rules, the better, really; Hot Tub Time Machine’s plot may be the movie’s hook, but it’s still just there to hang jokes on.

It wouldn’t be an ’80s comedy without nostalgic references aplenty, but while the spot-the-fad sight-gags are a big part of the film’s repertoire, they thankfully take a back seat to the dynamics of the cast. John Cusack (who also produced it) is excellent in a role that recalls the sensitive sad sacks of his ’80s heyday; he’s apparently still in touch with his inner mope, which is good news for fans who cut their teeth on Say Anything and Better Off Dead. Director Steve Pink clearly gets Cusack’s sensibility, too — though his only other directorial effort is the forgotten 2006 comedy Accepted, he wrote the scripts for Grosse Pointe Blank and High Fidelity, the last two flat-out good films in the actor-producer’s filmography.

As Cusack’s nephew, Clark Duke breaks through his computer-nerd stereotype thanks to a genuinely likeable performance, and Craig Robinson (The Office) steals more than a few scenes as an emasculated former rocker, but Rob Corddry (The Daily Show) is the real stand-out. Playing a complete alcoholic prick, he dominates every one of his scenes with his schoolboy taunts and general dickishness. The character could easily become grating, but Corddry’s timing is so spot on and his delivery so earnest that he manages the transition from “that asshole” to “our asshole.”

In spirit, Hot Tub Time Machine is closer to the Apatow school of comedy than you’d expect from a team of writers whose few other credits include this year’s much-reviled She’s Out of My League. Pedigree aside, their script strikes the right balance between gross-out humour, nostalgia and genuine male bonding — there’s a hint of sweetness underneath all the puke and semen, but only enough to stay on the right side of crass. Only time will tell if it ages better than the ’80s comedies it skewers, but either way, it’s a welcome flashba

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