Hot Tub Time Machine Doesn’t Make Any Sense – Even if You Grant That a Hot Tub Time Machine Can Exist

Sunday nights are weird. I haven’t worked during the day, but I’ve got to get to bed (relatively) early for work the following morning. Already this school year, I’ve been sucked in by a movie playing on AMC or FX which starts at 8PM, which means if I plan on watching the whole thing, I’ll be up to at least 10PM thanks to commercials. I try very hard to avoid this scenario as it leads to difficulty waking up on Monday morning as well as self-loathing. Last night, I was in one of those moods where I wanted to watch a movie, but didn’t want to think. I have The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo looming, but that’s a two-and-a-half-hour movie. It was already past 7:30. No shot. So I went with Hot Tub Time Machine. The movie features as self-explanatory a title as I’ve seen in some time, a few topless scenes, a bunch of sordid jokes in the The Hangover vein, and gratuitous use of Motley Crue’s “Home Sweet Home” (never a bad thing). But the movie is horribly written and begins to fall apart if you ask simple question: Why would any of the four main characters want to go back to their present?

It's not like any of them had a whole lot going on back in real time.

It’s not like any of them had a whole lot going on back in real time.

**SPOILER ALERT**The exposition of the film spends itself establishing how horrible life is for the four protagonists. (Left-to-right) Jacob is a teenager whose mother has moved in and spends time in his uncle’s unfinished basement playing an online game where his character is in prison. Nick works at a dog grooming establishment where he retrieves car keys from the anuses of dogs. It is later revealed his wife cheated on him. Adam (Jacob’s uncle) is left with few possessions as his girlfriend (?) moved out and took just about everything, including his television. Lou tried to kill himself with carbon monoxide while rocking out to “Home Sweet Home” and pantomiming the Tommy Lee’s drum parts.

There’s not a lot for these characters to look forward to in their present lives.

Just so we're clear, this is the dream.

Just so we’re clear, this is the dream.

The character establishment works well enough to explain why the group would want to visit Kodiak Valley (K-Val!), the site of some of their most glorious times. When they arrive, they soon learn that the area has fallen upon hard times, as many of the stores on the main street are boarded up. Similarly, the Ski Resort (420, their old room) has fallen into disrepair, complete with the scent of cat urine in the main lobby. The setting is obviously symbolic of three adult protagonists; time hasn’t been kind to them, either.

I can accept that spilling a Russian version of Red Bull called “Chernobly” onto the hot tub’s control panel some how allows the four men to travel back in time to 1986. Stranger things have happened. Predictably, the main characters make choices based on their desire not to change anything. They have to do things exactly as they did them all those years ago. The toss out the “change one thing, change everything” mantra standard for time-traveling plots. They even mention The Butterfly Effect on numerous occasions. For Nick, this means retroactively cheating on his wife. For Adam, it means breaking up with a girl – though he admits she was his “great white buffalo” (the one that got away). For Lou, it means getting his ass kicked twice on the same night by the same guy. The only character who has a serious interest in seeing things done the same was is Jacob, the young man who guesses he was conceived right around the time of the trip.

It's not quite Serendipity, now is it?

It’s not quite Serendipity, now is it?

At the film’s climax, Jacob and Nick willingly jump into the hot tub as the space-time continuum is rupturing or something. There is an exchange between Adam and Lou with Lou ultimately deciding to stay. When Adam tells Lou that he’ll stay, too, Lou shoves Adam into the hot tub. Why? If Lou was going to stay and change everything, what’s the difference? He’s going to change everything anyway. What’s inherently wrong with Adam’s choice to stay? He’s making the same choice as Lou is. Sure, Jacob is completely out of place in 1986, and Nick really loves his wife, but Adam? Like Lou, he doesn’t have anything to go back to. More importantly, what was the point of the first half of the movie? Lou actively acted against the central conflict of the film.

At the end of the film, it is revealed that Lou used his knowledge of the future to attain financial wealth Back to the Future-style (casting Crispin Glover as the one-armed Phil was a nice touch, by the way). Except the squirrel already showed us that screwing around with time inherently changes things. Whatever.

Metaphorically, this is exactly like To Kill a Mockingbird. But not really.

Metaphorically, this is exactly like To Kill a Mockingbird. But not really.

When the three return without Lou, they find the present world substantially different from the one they left. Nick is a successful musician and producer whose wife apparently never cheated on him. Jacob has a new family with his mom and Lou as his father. Adam is married to April, a woman he met for the first time during his trip back in time. It was like Serendipity, only without any kind of true relationship building. Most importantly, though, they have no idea how any of it happened. Adam, for example, would have no idea how he and April got married. So now, their present is completely alien to them. They never experienced any of the things they supposedly accomplished, they just have to kind of accept them.

My problem with the movie is that if you think about these outcomes logically, then the only epoch that was “real” was the period they spent out of time in Kodiak Valley in 1986. Nothing before that matters because they are inconsequential. Everything after that is real, but with the simultaneous problems of A) the characters themselves never having experienced 1986-the present moment, and B) carrying the memories of their “real” 1986-present moment lives prior to time travel.

No, I know that I said I wanted to watch Hot Tub Time Machine because I didn’t want to think.

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