Movie Review: Hot Tub Time Machine (dir. Steve Pink; 2010)(A SFF Film Odyssey)

The first time I saw Hot Tub Time Machine (dir. Steve Pink; 2010), I wasn’t sure how to take it.  So much of the film made me uncomfortable because the characters seemed, for the most part, painfully unlikable.  That fact became clearer as I began comparing HTTM to other films of its type, leaving me to wonder:  why would I root for anyone in this movie when I’d rather each of them got hit by a bus instead of the one-armed Phil (Crispin Glover)?  Here lies a film that I’m sure even a teenage version of myself would find impossible to stomach — bereft of redeemable characters, excessive for shock value, and overall a perfect storm of the worst raunchy comedy tropes.  It’s a film best avoided so you can spare your brain the scrubbing.

HTTM is another take on the raunchy teen comedy, albeit one which uses time travel so its adult characters can relive the glory days of their teen years.  The story follows Adam (John Cusack), Nick (Craig Robinson), and Lou (Rob Corddry), former high school friends who reconnect after Lou attempts suicide because he can’t let go of the past.  Together with Adam’s nephew, Jacob (Clark Duke), Adam and Nick try to raise Lou’s spirits by taking him on a trip to the fictional Kodiak Valley, where the three them used to party in their youth.  The problem:  like their lives, Kodiak Valley is quickly falling apart.  But surprise…their hot tub moonlights as a time machine, and soon all four of them are whisked away to the 1980s, reliving their glory days all over again.  Only this time, they’re going to do things a little differently.  OK, a lot differently.

Like most raunchy teen comedies, HTTM is about a few things:  partying, sex, drugs/alcohol, and friendship.  It also happens to be about a group of almost ne’er-do-wells striving to fix their past mistakes in what is best described as hypermasculine wish-fulfillment.  One of my favorite examples of this subgenre is American Pie (dirs. Paul and Chris Weitz; 1999), which on its surface is just another “teens trying to get laid” story, but upon closer inspection becomes a comedic critique of the subgenre’s tropes and an amusing tale of young men on the cusp of actual adulthood — mediated, of course, through a narrative primarily focused on sex.  It’s far from a perfect film, in part because it relies, at times, on too many of the cheap sexist gags that continue to plague raunchy teen comedies, but it is a film that, at its core, is about something beyond the simplistic “fucks and friends” stories that lazier raunchy teen comedies present.

HTTM’s narrative, however, is exhausting primarily because it is so unlike American Pie in its vulgarity.  Where American Pie attempts at a correction of its high school dickery by making most of its characters realize the absurdity of an anti-virginity pledge, HTTM flips everything in the other direction by trying to convince us that the only real answer to the world’s problems is for the sex-crazed, drug-addled, lazy troublemaker to have unprotected sex with his friend’s sister.  It doesn’t temper its vulgarity to support its narrative of friendship, either; it relishes in the excess of its validated crude “hero.”  Lou repeatedly cries out “semen” and other vulgarities as he knowingly impregnates Adam’s sister, all so we can watch Adam cringe, as we rightfully should, at what is happening.  It is a film awash in its own bodily fluids, unsure how to paddle out of the kiddy pool.  Every crude act, mistake, and horror is validated in this film as appropriate male behavior.

Worse, where American Pie shows its characters actually working toward a future, almost all of the characters in HTTM are essentially thieves who either literally steal from the hard work of others, as in the case of Lou (a girlfriend who “gets him”) and Nick (a music career), or who steal time to make up for past mistakes, as in the case of Adam (who uses his future knowledge to screw over the Google creators by making Lougle).  Because ultimately, all of the protagonists are losers with no perception of the future, no plan, no hope, no dream.  Their dreams have died with their youth.  In this stark atmosphere — which can only lead us to Idiocracy (dir. Mike Judge; 2006), not the conclusion the film actually gives us — we’re also smacked over the head by the fact that the younger generation is resigned to a similar fate, as Jacob’s future is practically forfeited from the moment we meet him.  The young, like the old, have no dreams at all — as Adam says to Jacob while castigating him for spending all his time playing Second Life:  “You’re twenty years old. You’ve never made an important choice in your life.”

This would be brilliant if it were an intentional satire of what we might call the new Lost Generation of men — if the comedy was at their expense, not as a reinforcement of their values.  But HTTM is none of these things.  It is a male power fantasy whereby self-disenfranchised 40-somethings can drink, fuck, and steal their way back to success.  That makes its comedy all the more irksome and all the more less palatable than something more honest with its narrative.  American Pie, for example, is a mostly successful comedy about young men learning what it is to be men (and sometimes (often) failing, learning the wrong lessons, or becoming mockeries of themselves); HTTM is a comedy about the men who never learned the right lessons and never will.  One of these stories is funny.  I’ll let you guess which one.

About the only thing I can praise the film for is its soundtrack, which contains such classics as Motley Crue’s “Home Sweet Home” and Salt-n-Pepa’s “Push It.”  That’s what I’ll choose to dwell on for the next few hours.


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About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric and Writing at Bemidji State University. He received his PhD in English from the University of Florida and studies science fiction, postcolonialism, digital fan cultures, and digital rhetoric.

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