Hot Tub Time Machine boasts one of the weirdest synopses in recent memory. John Cusack finds himself, along with his dissatisfied middle-aged friends, transported back to the ’80s after an incident involving an illegal energy drink and hot tub.
Cusack himself has come a long way since playing lovesick Lloyd Dobler in Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything… back in 1989. Now 43, he has since channelled Woody Allen’s whine in Bullets Over Broadway (1994), soldiered through the Pacific in The Thin Red Line (1998) and survived apocalyptic mayhem in last year’s 2012. But the actor’s latest comedy – a high-concept romp set at a Miami Vice-era ski resort – returns him to the decade that saw his arrival on our screens.
So you and your buddies get in the hot tub and it’s 1986. Is this just wish fulfilment on your part?
Honestly, I really don’t remember the ’80s being like this. I remember them being quite scary.
So this isn’t a documentary?
Let me rephrase that. Me and the film’s director, Steve Pink, went to high school together. And we were two of the four idiots here – the guys taking all sorts of stuff and going to Vegas and stuff. That was totally us. But seriously, the ’80s? I thought they were a sign of the impending apocalypse.
So you’re not really a fan of nostalgia?
It’s like those high-school yearbook photos that everyone would rather not see: ‘oh my God, look at that mullet hair.’ I have those photos too, but for me, they’re entire movies. And they show them on cable.
But come on. This is your Being John Malkovich. It had to be you, playing the romantic sad sack who falls for the cool writer chick.
It’s funny: when John Malkovich called me and told me he was going to do that film, he said, ‘Uh, Johnny? The movie is so mean. And it’s mean to me. But, you know, f*** it. I am an a*******.’ [Laughs] There was a similar element here. This was not going to be funny unless it was mean to me. We thought Hot Tub could be smart and postmodern, where I’m in on the joke and the audience is in on the joke. And then just really stupid too. Stupid was key. The script all came together violently, quickly and weirdly – but in a great way.
What do you remember fondly about the ’80s? Your character says, ‘We had Reagan and Aids.’
It was a good time to become an artist, because there was a lot to rebel against. There was a much clearer division between who was awake and who was asleep. Now everybody seems to be pretending to be awake. Maybe it’s just a function of being 19.
Even at 19, in John Hughes’s Sixteen Candles, you were the bruised optimist in comedies.
I’ll take that! What’s interesting about Lloyd in Say Anything… is that he is optimistic, but he’s not sentimental. So his optimism is sort of a revolutionary act – a heroic undertaking, not naïve.
Is it hard for you to look back on your early stuff?
It used to be. I never found much value in it. I always thought it best to figure out what’s in front of you right now.
But we sense lately, with High Fidelity and now this, that you’re easing into it.
‘Yeah. I never wanted to come off as self-important. If I did, then I suck. But these days, I make fun of myself a lot more. I’m willing to open up the yearbook and let go.’
Hot Tub Time Machine is in UAE cinemas next week.
Our favourite time-travel films
1 Star Trek IV (1986)
Whales are extinct in the future, which angers some random aliens. Kirk and co shoot back to 1986, catch Moby and save Earth.
2 Back to the Future (1985)
Marty McFly and a man twice his age drive back to the ’50s to impersonate Chuck Berry. Fact
3 Groundhog Day (1993)
Director Harold Ramis wanted Tom Hanks, he got Murray, and we got gold dust. ‘Ned? Ned Ryerson?’ ‘Bing!’ BAM!
4 Donnie Darko (2001)
This film, no matter what clever-looking student types insist, makes no sense at all. There is, however, a time-travelling jet engine.
5 The Time Traveller’s Wife (2009)
Adrien Brody was first choice for the lead role in this far-fetched caper about love, but Eric Bana (The Hulk, Chopper) was ultimately cast as the romantic lead.