With a title like “Hot Tub Time Machine” and a cast stacked with notable comedians, audiences won’t have to ponder too hard concerning the content and tone of this motion picture.

Sadly the film’s name is its most memorable asset, the actual movie amounting to little more than a by the numbers Hollywood farce. It’s a passable way to kill 90 minutes, but “Hot Tub Time Machine” lacks the comedic spark or invention which might have otherwise elevated it to the same chuckle filled highs as recent fare like “The Hangover”. On the whole it’s just a bit underwhelming.

After Lou (Rob Corddry) attempts to commit suicide, he and his equally depressed buddies Adam (John Cusack) and Nick (Craig Robinson) decide to revisit a cherished ski resort from their past. With Adam’s misfit nephew Jacob (Clark Duke) also along for the ride, the crew are saddened to find the partying central of the eighties now a dead and unappealing destination. In order to spice things up the guys grab some booze and make for the hot tub, unaware that the amenity in question is also a time machine. Waking up the morning after, they find themselves in 1986, an era of casual sex, cheerful misadventure and enthusiastic dreaming. A cryptic mechanic (Chevy Chase) is on hand to suggest methods the boys might use in order to return to the future, but with the exception of a nervous Jacob, none of the group seem particularly keen to get back.

The cast are generally commendable in “Hot Tub Time Machine”, what disappoints is the screenplay. Penned by John Morris, Sean Anders (the duo behind 2008’s “Sex Drive”) and Josh Heald, the script has a habit of going for the easy gag, resulting in a tirade of overly familiar time travel humour. Dealing with a young and horny maternal figure? Wasn’t that “Back to The Future”? Deploying knowledge of future sporting events to get rich? Hey, that’s “Back to the Future: Part 2”! The writers probably excused these obvious narrative plunders as cute references, but in my eyes they’re just proof that Anders, Morris and Heald have their comic sensibility set on autopilot. In fairness the movie isn’t completely without laughs, but one gets the feeling all the successful jokes are the improvisational work of the actors, because beyond its title, the script evidenced here has no real flair at all.

The leading quartet is impressive, even if they all very much stick within their comfort zones. Cusack has an easy charm and keeps Adam likable, even without stretching himself. Robinson and Duke both use their trademark sarcasm nicely, beefing up the film’s otherwise dubious laugh quota. The standout however is Rob Corddry, parading around the movie with energy, wit and even a little pathos. His rampaging performance is at the heart of many of this picture’s finest moments, signifying that the actor is ready to transition from amusing supporting player to a leading man slot ASAP. Chevy Chase and Crispin Glover add a neat slice of nostalgic value as goofy background noise, whilst the ever sexy Diora Baird pops up in a small and uncredited turn. If “Hot Tub Time Machine” does anything right, it’s providing viewers with a little helping of Diora. On the other hand the project monumentally wastes the talented Lizzy Caplan (in a truly nothing role), so maybe that evens things out?

Director Steve Pink handles things competently, although places too much emphasis on easy sight gags from time to time. “Hot Tub Time Machine” is rife with vomit, faeces and boobs, the film determined to keep its comedic vibe pitched at the crudest note possible. The film earns its R-rating with aplomb, Pink clearly trying to compensate for the soggy screenplay with as much edgy and adult content as he can. It almost sort of works, “Hot Tub Time Machine” packing the sort of nostalgic gross out factor that dominated silly cinema twenty years ago, the picture sharing a duel obsession with female anatomy and penis based tomfoolery. Of course some of these moments misfire, but in a way I was kind of glad to see them in a film so fixated with eighties culture.

The film attempts to pour in the themes of friendship, the curses of adulthood and some other emotional guff to try and add a little depth to proceedings, but none of these facets really resonate. “Hot Tub Time Machine” actually strives for poignancy in a few sequences, something that sort of surprises, and ultimately fails. Pink and the writers haven’t the skill to lead the movie down such life affirming paths with any real heart or maturity. “Hot Tub Time Machine” just doesn’t offer much in the way of decoding the human condition, and it might have been better if it hadn’t tried to do so at all.

I don’t want to sound like I’m shitting all over “Hot Tub Time Machine”, and if I do it’s only because it’s a movie which should have been better. It packs a modest portion of entertainment value, but is scuppered by pedestrian writing and a slightly unhealthy desire to provide some sort of nuanced message concerning the tribulations of growing up. If the picture had been a little more reverent to the spectacularly ridiculous title, it’d be a funnier and more rewarding watch. As it stands “Hot Tub Time Machine” occupies the genre middle ground, a fact that automatically damns it to be completely forgotten by this time next year.

5.5/10

Daniel Kelly