I hate when film distributors put a comparative review right on the DVD box. It's as if they're that desperate girl in school who tries to dress like the popular girls, even though everyone knows she's not even remotely a part of that clique. In most cases, the movie inside can't live up to that hype. Hot Tub Time Machine: Unrated stuck the quote, "Funnier than The Hangover!" right under the title. Not "As funny as..." or "Almost as funny as...", but "Funnier than..." Come on! The Hangover was one of those rare instant comedy classics that defined a generation, like American Pie. Don't set yourself up for failure like that, even if the New York Post really said it. The bottom line is that Hot Tub Time Machine is not funnier than The Hangover. It's not even close. That's not to say that it isn't funny, because it is. It even has some genuinely unique humorous moments, which I didn't expect.
When you have a movie called Hot Tub Time Machine, you kind of know what you're getting into. Snakes on a Plane went with that title because it was trying to poke fun at the conventions of the genre it was in. HTTM is clearly doing the same thing, and in many respects, that tongue-in-cheek approach to the story works well. It also manages to remind us all what an utter fashion disaster the 1980s were. I'm surprised more people didn't go blind if the world was really as colorful as those ski slopes of 1986.
The premise is pretty simple. Adam (John Cusack), Lou (Rob Corddry), and Nick (Craig Robinson) are three buddies who go way back. Back to when they still had dreams of superstardom and really making something of themselves. As usual, life got in the way, and now they find themselves in their forties and stuck. An impromptu road trip back to the ski resort where they had some of their most formative years as young men triggers fond memories for the men, while proving to be a huge disappointment to Adam's nephew, Jacob (Clark Duke), who reluctantly goes along.
All that changes when the hot tub outside their room transports them back to Winterfest 1986, when the resort was hopping with snow bunnies, the men were boys, and Adam's sister/Jacob's mother, Kelly (Collette Wolfe), was a party girl. Without getting too engrossed in the particulars of time travel, the guys decide that they need to re-enact everything that happened exactly the same way it did in '86 so as not to alter the timeline. As Jacob points out, a la Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future, if they mess things up too much, he might never be born. The director even slips in a couple of fade-out moments for Jacob in an obvious nod to the classic time-travel trilogy.
There are some great comedy elements to the film, including Chevy Chase as the "hot tub repairman" who clearly knows more about their predicament than he lets on, and a brilliantly fun turn by Crispin Glover as a one-armed bellhop. When the gang returns to 1986, they find him there working at the resort, and still in possession of both his arms. A recurring gag throughout the film is the hope that every predicament the bellhop gets himself into might be the one that costs him a limb.
The crux of the film, though, is the emotional journey of Adam, while Lou is battling his own demons. This was the weekend that Adam broke up with his girlfriend, but when a new girl shows up in his life -- a girl he never met the first time around -- he's not sure what he should do. Lizzy Caplan (Party Down) does a great job of being "that girl" that any guy would love to hang out with for awhile, because she's sexy, hot, awesome, and a little bit dangerous. Who wouldn't want to get some alone time with her?
Rob Corddry is absolutely out of control as Lou, which fits the outlandish antics of the character. While his performance pales in comparison to Zach Galifianakis in The Hangover (hey, they made the comparison first), you can see that he's trying to fill that role of the unpredictable friend who may be slightly unstable, but certainly adds an element of zany fun to any party. Only Corddry's zany has a huge helping of dickhead mixed in, which makes him a far less sympathetic character.
I would have liked to see more strength in the characters themselves once the premise was fully established. Craig Robinson had some of the funniest scenes in the film, including one of the best phone calls you'll ever see on film, but he is criminally under-utilized. In fact, as much as I like Corddry, I think the film would have been better served by reducing his screen time in favor of Robinson, perhaps creating a better balance. However, all four men do get several chances to shine, with some truly clever material and fresh jokes. Aside from the phone call, we get an incredibly awkward hot-tub sex scene, an even more uncomfortable threesome set-up, a cringeworthy lost wager, and one of the best twist endings I've ever seen in a time-travel film.
It may not be funnier than The Hangover, but Hot Tub Time Machine certainly stands among the upper echelon of comedies in the past few years. Both the R-Rated and Unrated versions of the movie are on the disc, allowing you to choose which one you want to watch. Other than that, there's only a "Deleted Scenes" reel, which is a bit of a disappointment. Luckily, it showcases a lot of the improv that went into some of the more memorable scenes in the movie, including the aforementioned phone call and lost wager. When you get comedians as talented as this cast, sometimes it's best to just let the camera role and allow them the freedom to do whatever their muse tells them to. You'll get some weird stuff, but almost always plenty of hilarious moments to fill a reel like this.
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