That there is now a time travel/nostalgia film which zips back to the decade in which Back to the Future was made is guaranteed to make people like me feel old. And this one even has Crispin Glover in it, looking bizarrely unchanged, to rub it in. With a lot of background work going into décor (a poster for White Knights), hairstyles and ski outfits (hideous, with headbands), this has a fondness for a decade which even those who were young in it felt was pretty crappy – when the junior member of the time-trip quartet looks forward to the drugs and free love, he is abruptly told that he’s thinking of the 1960s and ‘all we had was AIDS and Reagan’.
It opens in 2010 by establishing that the future world-beaters of 1986 are what passes for losers in a mainstream American film – Adam (John Cusack) sells insurance, has just been dumped by his girlfriend and has his net-junkie slacker nephew Jacob (Clark Duke) living in his basement, Nick (Craig Robinson) works at a mall vet called ‘Sup Dawg’ and is hen-pecked enough to incorporate his cheating wife’s name into his own, and Lou (Rob Corddry) is an angry bald asshole who has just been fired again and only gets his oldest friends to visit by attempting an inept suicide. With Jacob tagging along, the trio revisit the ski resort where they had teen movie gross-out type adventures – more in like with ‘80s items like The Party Animal, Hotbodies and Bachelor Party than ‘80s Cusack vehicles like The Sure Thing or Say Anything – only to find that it’s as faded and derelict as their lives. But a don’t-think-about-it contrivance with the hot tub, an irradiated Russian soft drink and a swirly effect sends all four back to 1986, where they see their younger selves in the mirror – except for Jacob, who fades in and out of existence since his whole life is now provisional – and have to live through a busy day of well-remembered crises (Adam getting stabbed in the eye with a fork for dumping his college girlfriend, Lou getting beaten up by asshole ski patrols led by someone who looks like the villain of Karate Kid II, Nick performing with his band before giving up on a music career) before an enigmatic fixer (Chevy Chase) can get the hot tub working again and send them back to the future.
For a reel or so, they vow not to change the past – ‘you’ll make Hitler president’ – and discuss The Butterfly Effect (the movie and the effect), but when Adam hesitates in the crucial scene with his perky ‘80s g.f. (Lyndsey Fonseca) she dumps him instead and he still gets stabbed with the fork. Oddly, no one mentions the end of Back to the Future, since that’s plainly where we’re headed as the dolts fumble their way towards changing their lives for the better or just at random: Adam by hooking up with an awesome woman (Lizzy Caplan), who anachronistically introduces herself with ‘I’m awesome’ (though, to be fair, Caplan is), Nick by telephoning his nine-year-old future wife and explicitly haranguing her for being a future slut, and Lou solves a long-standing mystery about Jacob’s paternity by having sex with Adam’s sparkly sister (Collette Wolfe) lingering in the past with all his foreknowledge (just like in The Final Countdown) so he can profit from inventing internet search engine Lougle and a rock star period with Motley Lüe (there’s no thought for the successful folk of our timeline who get ripped off without ever knowing it and presumably languish in obscurity just so an obnoxious jerk can be a billionaire). The tone is as crass and gross as its ‘80s models or recent slob comedies – a highlight is Lou puking on a squirrel, and there’s a routine where Nick is duped into believing he’s come on Lou’s face – and (Caplan aside) all the women are brainless sluts (hey, even Losin’ It had Shelley Long and Diner had Ellen Barkin). However, this passes the basic test for a comedy: it’s mostly funny, and the characters are inherently appealing enough – even patience-testing jerk Lou – to get past the duff stretches. As in the ‘80s, no time travel comedy can do without a Ronald Reagan joke, but this also has a quotient of contemporary gags about ‘80s primitives who don’t know anything of this email, texting or the internet you speak of (like, why would the time travelers expect any different?). Scripted by Josh Heald and Sean Anders & John Morris; directed by Steve Pink.
Hot Tub Time Machine2 (2015)
Five years on and the gang are back in the HTTM take on Back to the Future Part 2, with the significant difference that John Cusack bailed out – he doesn’t even cameo – so we’re left with his comedy sidekicks and a substitute, Adam Scott as the Cusack character’s son, who is the butt (literally) of jokes rather than a leading man. Also, by zipping from the timeline-altered present of the end of the first film ten years into a future with murderous self-driving cars and VR humiliation TV shows hosted by Christian Slater the baseline harkback to ‘80s teen comedies is out the window. Which leaves just Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson and Clark Duke acting like complete assholes for an hour and a half – a running joke which soon runs down has Lou (Corddry) try to excuse inexcusable behaviour by saying ‘only joking’, but the film’s real stratagem is to skip over a bunch of appalling business with these hateful folks and try to lob a pathos-byte which asks us to sympathise with their self-pity. It doesn’t work that way. It does pick up on one omission I noted in the first film – in the altered timeline, Lou and Nick (Robinson) have become rich by pretending to have other people’s ideas (inventing ‘Lougle’) or writing other people’s songs … and here Lisa Loeb does pop up as a cat-wrangler wondering why Nick’s cover of a song she has no longer written seems so personal, though it’s just a thought with no payoff.
In the future, Nick has become a joke success with a stupid dance of his own (‘the Strut’) and he does become reconciled to that – though going back in time to invent something he’s seen an alternate self demonstrate is pretty much the same thing as plagiarism. This time, Lou gets shot in the dick by a mystery avenger and the trio use the time machine and its gizmo fuel to go to the future to track down the time-traveller with an animus against a man everyone has good reason to want to kill – even with his existence in peril, Lou’s basic urge is to get wasted and be an asshole to his friends and strangers alike. When they meet Adam Jr, who is about to get married, he is dragged on a quest to meet his father – a thread dropped because of the no-Cusack factor – and he winds up being drugged, VR raped, have his scrotum inflated by nanobots and be driven mad by the sight of his fiancee (Gillian Jacobs) fucking his uncle by marriage. Women are still props – a minor plot element is that Kelly (Collette Wolfe), Lou’s wife, has divorced him in the future and become a doctor … but he goes back to the present and wins her back, stomping her chance of self-actualisation flat without a second thought. Chevy Chase is in for a cameo that just ticks a box. Written and directed by returnees Josh Heald (additional screenwriting by John Karnay) and Steve Pink.