Midway through Hot Tub Time Machine, a drunken, stoned, shrooming John Cusack, who plays one of the film's time bandits, bumps into cheery, shaggy Crispin Glover, who plays a bellboy. For moviegoers who can remember these two actors' early careers, this brief encounter is a pleasant shock. Most people recall Cusack's shy, furtive charm from films like 1989's Say Anything, but Glover's performance as a vulnerable, unpredictable teenage speedfreak in 1986's River's Edge was equally impressive. The stage is thus set for a long-overdue reunion between two American actors who exemplified the Reagan-era teenage boy. Unfortunately, Glover's and Cusack's accidental summit doesn't yield any insight, conflict, or laughs. As it often happens in Hot Tub Time Machine, a potentially complex comic-historic scenario is steamrolled in favor of crowd-pleasing bodily-function disasters.
Several times during this not-bad-but-let's-not-kid-ourselves film, my love of time-travel films essentially canceled out my hatred of '80s teen comedies. But it's hard not to remember that even the best of the '80s teen flicks were fatally cartoonish, disposable, and pitched to the lowest common audience member. Seen again after nearly 30 years, their careless craftsmanship and awful performances look irrevocably and harmfully dated to all but the most uncritical nostalgia addicts.
However, for an attentive student of the Ferris Bueller-One Crazy Summer-Ski Patrol garbage that once padded the shelves of video stores — remember those? — there are some decent in-jokes and asides, including a visual nod to the finale of Sixteen Candles and someone who, in a tip of the cap to Better Off Dead, mutters, "I want my two dollars." There's a big concert moment inspired by Back to the Future and a William (né Billy) Zabka sighting as well.
But the sloppy execution of this time-traveling conceit is as irritating as it is avoidable. Period pieces don't all need to be Barry Lyndon, but some elementary fact-checking would have been useful — especially in the soundtrack selections, one of the few places where the filmmakers try to convey period detail. The movie is supposed to occur during the winter of 1986-87, but Mötley Crüe's "Kickstart My Heart," which is used twice, is a song they wrote in 1989, and their ballad "Home Sweet Home" is from 1985 (which is important once you see the closing credits). Also, although it was released as a single, no one back then was playing the Replacements' "I Will Dare" on a ski-lodge jukebox.
Even in something as self-consciously and defiantly stupid as Hot Tub Time Machine, details matter.
Hot Tub Time Machine