The raunchy, guy-centric comedy Hot Tub Time Machine makes a vertiginously high-concept bid to be this year's version of The Hangover, and darned if it doesn't succeed. In fact, this so-stupid-it's-brilliant comedy in many ways exceeds The Hangover, which for all its explosive humor contained its share of dead zones. Hot Tub Time Machine simmers right along like so many Jacuzzi bubbles popping with a carefully calibrated mix of sight gags, sex jokes, and baby boomer references (including a funny sub-plot involving Crispin Glover).
If you've seen the trailer — heck, if you've read the title — you pretty much know everything there is to know about Hot Tub Time Machine. John Cusack, Rob Corddry, and Craig Robinson star as estranged best buds who go on a ski trip and wind up athwart of the time-space continuum (Cusack's character's nephew, played by Clark Duke, goes along for the ride). It's precisely the kind of impossibly ludicrous, crassly commercial cinematic product that could have been pitched in a studio elevator (It's Old School meets Back to the Future! And did we mention The Hangover?).
But thanks to a pretty good script and crisp directing by way of Steve Pink — who collaborated with Cusack on the terrific High Fidelity and Grosse Pointe Blank — the whole series of shambolic set pieces somehow works, between the cringe-worthy sight gags (ah, the joys of a catheter run amok!) and the '80s nostalgia (ah, the joys of leg warmers, Ronald Reagan, hair bands, and mobile phones the size of loaves of bread!).
What really makes Hot Tub Time Machine work are the performances, with Cusack — generously winking at his own iconic power in the era he's lampooning — providing the necessary gravitational pull on Corddry's manic, borderline-pathological stunts (Corddry might inherit Jim Carrey's mantle as the crown dark prince of physical comedy). Robinson, who has proved to be such a reliable secret weapon in Judd Apatow comedies and The Office, gets to tuck into the movie's tastiest scenes, which include a burning rendition of "Jesse's Girl" and saying the words "Hot Tub Time Machine" directly into the camera.
Newcomer Duke, playing the same nerdy, baby-faced character that made Michael Cera and Jay Baruchel semi-stars, acquits himself with exceptional dignity and assurance, even as the movie around him threatens to drown in a sea of errant bodily fluids. The only wrong note belongs to Chevy Chase as a mysterious handyman who wanders through the movie like a punch line looking for a setup.
Hot Tub Time Machine is one of those movies that on paper make you despair of the state of contemporary cinema; on screen, though, it's proof that execution is everything.