As comedies, and titles, go it doesn’t come more high concept than Hot Tub Time Machine.
Adam (John Cusack), Nick (Craig Robinson) and Lou (Rob Corddry) are three fortysomething guys whose lives are hitting the skids. When they go on a lads’ weekend to their old haunt, along with Adam’s nephew Jacob (Clark Duke), a malfunction with the hot tub sends them back to 1986 and the site of their former glories.
In our third roundtable, the ReelScotland triumvirate of Jonathan Melville, Richard Bodsworth and Ross Maclean climb into a metaphorical Jacuzzi to discuss this potential cult splash.
Jonathan Melville: I love a good time travel film: The Back to the Future trilogy, The Time Machine (the original) and most recently Spain’s TimeCrimes are all favourites. The BTTF trilogy in particular holds a special place in my heart as I can vividly remember the excitement of seeing part one at the cinema on its release (and being given the novel to read soon after “ there were deleted scenes not in the film before DVDs got in on the act!) while the other two are superb in their own right.
Ross Maclean: I love BTTF. Who doesn’t? I’m willing to give most type of comedies a try and Hot Tub Time Machine sounded like an interesting concept if nothing else. The idea of a comedy taking elements of sci-fi is always intriguing. It’s usually done in a more a parodical way.
Jonathan: Comedy-wise, I’m a bit old fashioned. Gross out comedies do nothing for me, never have.
Ross: I have to admit I’m for any comedy that shows a degree of intelligence. It doesn’t bother me if that includes some edgier stuff.
Richard Bodsworth: I just wanted to go along to see Craig Robinson and some titties. Not his…
Jonathan: I’d seen the trailer for HTTM a while back and read the blurb, focussing more on the time travel aspect than the comedy.
Ross: What do you make of the title?
Jonathan: The title is fine, made me smile when I read it and whenever you try to sum it up to people. “It’s about a time machine that’s a hot tub” – it always gets a laugh.
Ross: It’s certainly attention-grabbing but the sheer silliness of it does slightly betray some of the deeper aspects of what the film’s about.
Richard: Deep aspects?
Ross: It had something pretty truthful and touching to say about losing your youth.
Jonathan: I’d agree with that, amongst the OTT humour and the sex references there are some touching moments in there. Not THAT kind of touching…
Ross: Although there is that too!
Richard: There was a lot of touching.
Jonathan: John Cusack in an 80s comedy? Has to be seen.
Ross: It’s nice to see John Cusack back in something like this. Despite the comedy premise, no one does self-reflexive angst like him.
Richard: Think it’s been ten years since I enjoyed anything with John Cusack.
Ross: He was almost back on High Fidelity form here.
Richard: I didn’t expect anything other than ridiculous but got a little more than that I suppose.
Jonathan: There was more in there than I expected, but it took me a while to “get” the humour, or at least the balance of poignancy and over-the-top gags.
Ross: It was more than I expected. Thought it had a bit of everything.
Jonathan: It was only around halfway through that it settled down for me and I started to invest in the characters.
Richard: I wasn’t a big fan of the initial 20 minutes or so. Hand in dog shit etc. I got into it after that. Felt the comedy was better even though there were a lot of ‘easy’ jokes.
Ross: I’ll say that I was pretty much with the characters from-the-off. There was a bit of stupidity early on but those scenes with Cusack returning to his empty apartment were quite moving for a comedy.
Jonathan: I was with the Cusack character from the start and I liked the idea of the friend drinking too much in the garage and ending up in hospital, but then the catheter gag came along.
Richard: Yeah, lowest common denominator comedy there. I thought that may be the way for the duration but it got better.
Ross: The other characters were a bit on the one-dimensional sidekick side of things to begin with, but they did grow on me when their foibles and problems emerged. In a similar laconic role, I thought Clark Duke was far funnier in this than he was in Kick-Ass.
Richard: “That girl”?
Jonathan: Rob Corddry’s Lou was clearly the most annoying character and I was half-expecting some sort of redemption but he did impress me more as the film progressed. Clark Duke was actually quite good; his exasperation with Chevy Chase’s character was played well, though Chase was a bit wasted here.
Ross: I was happy just to see Chevy on the screen again.
Richard: I suppose when you look at it that way, it was a bit deeper than the usual fare with more developed characters. Craig Robinson is one funny mo’fo.
Ross: Some of the pop culture gags had me snickering. The Shining gag near the start was really funny.
Richard: Yeah, but again some of them were too easy. “What colour is Michael Jackson?” for example. Another penis joke would have been more of a surprise than that MJ joke.
Ross: I liked that MJ gag!
Richard: Red Dawn.
Ross: Yeah, those 80s references!
Richard: Anything that references Red Dawn is good in my book.
Ross: Red Dawn stuff was brilliant. Those ‘jock’ characters were near-perfectly played parodies of 80s teen film villains. I thought the initial hot tub scene was actually one of the most beautifully directed bits of cinema I’ve seen in ages. The appearance of that bear was amazing “ and may actually have been another Shining reference.
Jonathan: Both time travel sequences were nicely done, but the first was great fun to watch.
Ross: So, what of the more sci-fi elements of the film? I thought the sci-fi dynamics, although handled for comic effect, were actually pretty well thought-out.
Richard: I can’t say I paid too much attention to the science to be honest.
Ross: Not so much “science”, but the whole concept of time travel is sci-fi.
Jonathan: I was trying to work out the age of Jacob (Duke) while watching it, to see if what I thought was going to happen at the end might happen. That was quite an obvious gag/development, but then it was never meant to be a complex plot I guess.
Ross: It was nicely done though, if slightly obvious. It had a nice roundedness to it.
Jonathan: The sci-fi was pretty throwaway, like Richard I switched off soon after they arrived in the past.
Ross: No more throwaway than BTTF really.
Jonathan: One thing I noticed was that it felt quite a claustrophobic, set-bound film. It didn’t spoil my enjoyment; I’d just like to have seen it open up a bit more.
Ross: Some of the 80s sight gags were a bit much, visually-speaking, in terms of set design.
Jonathan: The running gag with Crispin Glover got old fast, but good on them for bringing in Marty McFly’s dad. Major kudos there.
Ross: McFly’s dad from Part One only.
Jonathan: I can’t believe you even mentioned that! Every BTTF fan should know that.
Ross: They should get a Crispin Glover double in for any HTTM sequels.
Jonathan: I want them to find out that hot tubs were invented in the Old West…
Ross: ¦And cobble one together from existing technology?
Jonathan: Could do. Do you think there’s any scope for a sequel? I think they’d be struggling.
Ross: I think there could be. They’d have to think outside the box (or the hot tub) though. Maybe some kind of butterfly effect thing they missed?
Jonathan: Sauna Time Machine? En-suite Shower Time Machine?
Ross: Bidet Teleportation Device?
Richard: It was decent but doesn’t really warrant a sequel in my opinion. Like that’s going to stop anyone!
Ross: I would happily watch a sequel. I’ve seen, as I’m sure you both have, sequels to films with far less of a concept than this.
Jonathan: Yes, despite my initial uncertainty about it, and some of those jokes being OTT, I did come to like the characters by the end of it and would go and see a second one. I’d just know not to expect too much.
Richard: To me anyway, it was nothing more than a throwaway comedy. Sure it was a bit deeper than say Harold and Kumar, but it was no Apatow.
Ross: Don’t get me started on Judd. His stuff is so navel-gazing it’s barely a comedy any more.
Richard: So you prefer this to, say, Knocked Up?
Ross: Better than Knocked Up? Easily.
Jonathan: Certainly better than Knocked Up. It’s a comedy masquerading as a time travel flick, but with the benefit of having an 80s icon (well three if you include Glover and Chase) to give it a touch of class.
Richard: Chevy Chase? Class?
Jonathan: Chase is still a bit of an 80s icon, comedy-wise anyway. Without Cusack it would have been a lesser film and I might not have even bothered seeing it.
Ross: I thought it felt nicely nostalgic. Not so much in terms of the overtly 80s sight gags, but it had the feel of an escapist 80s film, like Weird Science, in many ways. I thought it struck a decent balance.
Richard: Maybe I’m too young to appreciate it.
Jonathan: I’d like to have seen more done with the poignant moments, but what we got did me well enough.
Hot Tub Time Machine opens in cinemas across Scotland on 7 May.