If ever there were a title that screamed for a movie to be seen, it was that of Hot Tub Time Machine, the newest film directed by Steve Pink. Serving as the ultimate example of the high-concept film, it is a raunchy homage to the still pleasing if not mostly predictable fare that is the '80s teen/college comedy.
Hot Tub Time Machine also marks the multi-tiered return of John Cusack. On the one hand, the audience is treated to a return to the fore in a successful comedy. On the other, he is returning to the mountain--the site of what some (namely, Adam Tecumseh Schwitters) would argue is the place where he reached his highest point as an actor. While I tend to think Cusack's best work didn't happen until the late '80s, there is an element of getting to see the young Cusack we all know and love in that familiar element here that gives HTTM an otherwise unattainable nostalgic essence.
And it really is a return to form for Cusack. Having spent the past few years bouncing back and forth between forgettable films like The Martian Child, War, Inc., and The Ice Harvest, and bigger budget numerically-titled films that are mostly below him like 1408 and 2012, Cusack gives us hope that maybe this was just a lost ten years. Where War, Inc. failed to rekindle the tone successfully struck in the fantastic Grosse Pointe Blank, Hot Tub Time Machine goes back to the well of Cusack's past successes and comes up with a perfect marriage between the Better Off Dead-era Cusack audiences fell in love with (hetero-/platonic love here, reader) and the High Fidelity/Grosse Pointe Blank riddled-with-pathos. The film's success owes largely to the fact that it finally puts Cusack back in a role fit for him.
Well, that and the fact that it is often uproariously funny. The laugh-out-loud descriptor is certainly apropos in the instance of Hot Tub Time Machine. Not only does the ludicrous premise richly lend itself to successful situational comedy, but the film outside of the time-period humor is legitimately funny. The most successful lines (not to give away too much, but they are related to Stargate and assholes) work entirely outside of the premise of the '80s homage. Clark Duke and Craig Robinson both deliver in their complimentary roles. Rob Corddry is pitch-perfect as the dickish, self-absorbed friend.
Most importantly, the film is entirely aware of its own ridiculousness. The time travel element of the narrative isn't taken too seriously. The shout-outs to the 80s movies it owes to are great touches, but all along this film is entirely aware of how brilliantly-dumb the premise of the Hot Tub Time Machine is, which is what enables the film to work. And work it does.