I would not want to be responsible for writing the screen story for the title Hot Tub Time Machine. There are certain ideas which are so awesomely stupid-amazing that no matter what, the execution cannot possibly match the film that the viewer will dream up just upon learning of the project. Recall Snakes on a Plane? (Which was, for me, very much the film I had in my head). And it's for this reason that a big part of me hopes that the long-gestating Cowboys and Aliens never gets made.

With Hot Tub Time Machine, you must obviously have a hot tub that sends people through time - and then what? This is the problem: it's an absolutely kick-ass concept, but that's it. Unfortunately, the reality is that feature movies aren't based on concepts, they're based on stories, and once you start doing something with your hot tub time machine, you have necessarily made it less interesting than the mere fact of a hot tub time machine.

But alack, story creator Josh Heald had the idea for a story about what happens as a result of the hot tub time machine, which he refined into a screenplay, which was further refined by Sean Anders & John Morris, who you may remember as the writers of Sex Drive and this year's She's Out of My League, and perhaps we might now see the general outline of where Hot Tub Time Machine goes wrong. Here, stripped of its complicating elements, is the story: four guys go on a male-bonding weekend to Kodiak Valley Ski Resort, the site of their most memorable college debauching (for three of them, at least; the youngest wasn't even alive yet). A malfunctioning hot tub sends them hurtling back to 1986, on the very night that they were all set on their future paths, and they alternately grapple with trying to make a more perfect future, while gawking at the massive culture shock of the mid-'80s.

Which is how Hot Tub Time Machine ends up being less of a film about a hot tub time machine, and more of a careful hybrid of the filthy sex comedies of the '80s with their '00s descendants. It makes sense that this should be done, sooner or later, for the contemporary films in the style (e.g. The Hangover), mostly about adults, or at least man-children, are typically made by people who were at the perfect age to watch those '80s films, mostly about teens/college kids, during their own formative years. In a very real way, the modern raunchy male sex farce is nothing but the vintage raunchy male sex farce grown up a bit in age, but not maturity.

This could have worked: Wet Hot American Summer, nine years ago, worked, and it's the same movie at heart (a tribute to old teen sex comedies). But Hot Tub Time Machine does not work, for a cocktail of reasons, of which the two most important are these: it is driven too much by its plot, and it's not very funny.

Since the second of these is the more subjective and ethereal objection, I'll start there. You have to be pretty smart to execute stupid humor properly, and Hot Tub Time Machine just isn't smart at all. A crushing proportion of the gags are of the "huh, the Eighties, amiright?" variety; which is to say, they're not even jokes, but observations. People used to wear - get this - legwarmers! *rim shot* Or even worse, People used to - get this - not use the internet! Because it didn't exist! *uproarious laugh track* I suppose somebody, somewhere, finds that positively hi-larious, but me, I kept wondering when this alleged comedy was going to bother being funny. You can play this stuff for laughs: look at Back to the Future (the makers of Hot Tub Time Machine obviously did, casting Crispin Glover for no other apparent reason). On the other hand, playing something for laughs is an active task; laughs do not come about simply as a function of placing something in front of a camera and noting that it is yoked to a specific time period. If this were the case, Far from Heaven would be the funniest movie of the 2000s.

Most of the jokes that aren't fish-out-of-time quips involve one sort of juvenile act or another; there are two projectile vomiting gags (a terrible number; one can work, or so many that it becomes absurd; two is just indulgent), a fake semen joke, and plenty of "the word 'fuck' is funny" jokes. This branch of the film is at least marginally diverting; not terribly funny, but dimly amusing in a certain sort of way. It's nowhere near The Hangover, which was inventive in its laddish obsession with dicks, sex, and crudeness; and it also trucks in many of the same powerfully unfunny misogynistic and gay-panic notes that The Hangover excused by virtue of being excellent in other ways. Director Steve Pink demonstrates repeatedly that he doesn't have much sense in the way of comic timing, inventiveness, or anything else that would raise this over-familiar material above its baseline level; the jokes plop out on the screen and then die there.

It's where the film gets wrapped up in its own plots and character arcs, though, that the comedy suffers the worst. A raunchy boys' comedy called Hot Tub Time Machine has a certain obligation not to be "about" anything; this is unfortunately not the case here. The specifics of the story involve three estranged friends, Adam (John Cusack), Nick (Craig Robinson), and Lou (Rob Corddry), along with Adam's nephew Jacob (Clark Duke), who journey to Kodiak Valley following an accident that looked a lot like a suicide attempt on Lou's part. All three of the older men are fighting middle-age ennui, with Adam grousing over a lifetime of failed relationships, and Nick distraught over his wife's infidelity; and it is only by returning to the site of their post-adolescent triumphs that they can redeem themselves. The film privileges late-teenage hedonism, but that's not really what's problematic about it; it's that the film is so concerned with tracking their growth that it loses sight of its mission statement, which is to be a sex farce with a hot tub time machine. That probably explains why the film only has time for the easiest kind of raunchy gags.

In a word: wasted opportunity. In two words, then. The point being, Hot Tub Time Machine needed to be a much zanier, more imaginative, even dirtier movie, if it was truly going to be the epic '80s tribute/parody that we were promised. Instead, it is a bland comedy that is neither unpleasant nor effective at any moment. Yet I do not judge: for as I said, I could have done no better. Some concepts are simply too perfect to survive being turned into a real-world thing; the same is true of Hot Tube Time Machine as has been said of communism, it is too perfect for imperfect human beings to implement it correctly.