Back in the nineteen-eighties, everything seemed so promising for best friends Adam (John Cusack), Lou (Rob Corddry) and Nick (Craig Robinson), but now, in the present, it all doesn't look quite so rosy. In fact, they hardly get together at all now, having grown tired of one another and tired of life in general, but one night something happens to reunite the old gang. Sadly, it's not such a great occasion, as Adam and Nick visit the hospital bed of Lou, who insists he has not made a suicide attempt no matter what the doctors say. Even though he is regarded as the "asshole" of their circle of friends, they decide to cheer him up - but how?
Just about everybody needs a good dose of cheering up in Hot Tub Time Machine, whose Snakes on a Plane-style meme spread throughout the internet, but did not translate into huge takings at the box office. It's easy to see why: once you've heard the title you pretty much know the whole plot, except for the one thing that made it stand out, something that wasn't in the publicity. That was the overall dejection and misery that the characters are going through from the start, and a few off colour gags aside, the mood of the film was a morose one, but that was because the screenwriters planned to work up to their happy ending, and a muted Cusack was playing it all too far from his Better Off Dead days.
As it starts, if you were around in the eighties this was likely to make you feel less like you wished to go back there, and more like you wished to go anywhere but where you were at in the twenty-first century. They really laid the depression on with a trowel - the plot begins because of a suicide attempt, there's no getting around it - and a more popular route to the past might have been to make this a Dude, Where's My Car? type of goofy meander through some epically daft jokes and skits. But director Steve Pink and his team knew what they wanted and were determined to plough their own furrow, so the reason the three friends and Adam's nephew Jacob (Clark Duke) go on a break is because they cannot live with themselves.
Hilarious, right? Well, it was funny, but you had to be patient for the set-up to kick in. They have opted to go to the ski lodge where they had their best vacation ever, but when they get there, true to this movie's form, everything is rundown, everyone there is as low as our heroes, and the hotel is now a dump. If there's one thing this film really hates, it's being in the present. But what if there were a way to go back to the heyday of the teen movie? That's what the four of them discover when they jump in the hot tub to try to lift their spirits and end up accidentally spilling a Russian energy drink on the controls. The result? Things don't look quite the same...
They do a typical job of recreating the decade, typical of this style of comedy, where every item of pop culture recognisable from then is packed into as many scenes as possible, just so we get the message that they've wound up in the eighties. We even get to see one of the stars of Back to the Future, Crispin Glover, appearing as an initially surly, one armed porter, leading to a running gag about when we will witness him losing his limb. And actually, the tone gets brighter as the plot progresses, though there is the conscience of the characters to get over in that at first they want to make sure that everything they do will not affect the future - this in spite of their future being gloomy at best (even Jacob simply sits on the internet in Adam's basement all day). The message is to embrace life when you can, although the benefit of hindsight plays a large part in that, and very few people had their own time machine to lighten their life's burden; get over that, and you had a not bad comedy of nostalgia. Music by Christophe Beck.