This year marks the 30th anniversary of “Back to the Future” and the 25th anniversary of “Back to the Future III,” the final (or, some fans hope against hope, most recent) film in the classic time-travel comedy series. But the bulk of the latest nostalgia wave has centered, so far, on 1989’s “Back to the Future II,” in which Marty McFly rode the DeLorean to 2015, a world with flying cars, self-lacing Nikes and “Jaws 19” plastered across movie house marquees.
The “Back to the Future” flicks, all great in their own way, highlight a divide that land time-travel comedies on different segments of the entertainment continuum, if not the time-space continuum.
Films that look back tend to focus most on righting old wrongs (the first two “Back to the Future” installments and the underrated 1986 gem “Peggy Sue Got Married”) or encounters with historic figures (“Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” or, in the TV realm, Brian and Stewie’s time-hopping adventures on “Family Guy”). Personal stakes for characters, of course, also drive the action in movies that jump ahead, but glimpses into the imagined future stick most with audiences after the final credits (“Back to the Future II").
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It’s only been five years since “Hot Tub Time Machine” emerged as the bawdy, illegitimate child of “Back to the Future,” with its tale of disaffected fortysomething pals unexpectedly transported by the inanimate title character back to the 1980s and given a chance to reverse the course of loser-dom. Now “Hot Tub Time Machine 2” splashes down Friday, with a future-shlock plot that will either sink or swim under a fresh wave of laughs or groaners.
“Hot Tub Time Machine” didn’t set box office records. But its able cast – including John Cusack, Craig Robinson and Rob Corddry – succeeded in make us care about their angst-ridden set of pals, aided by Clark Duke as a young man whose existence depends on the hot tub and Chevy Chase as an old man who supplies its magic. The high-haired retro 1980s humor, the comic chemistry among the bickering leads and just enough action made for enjoyable fluff some of us can’t help but sample again and again whenever it turns up on TV.
Cusack didn’t return for the sequel, but Adam Scott joins the cast for this go-around, which includes some time hopping, but takes place primarily in 2025. The movie ostensibly revolves around saving Corddry’s grating Lou, who exploited his time travels to become the “father of the Internet,” from getting shot. The plot, though, doesn’t much matter, as long as laughs are delivered.
“Back to the Future II” didn’t correctly predict much of anything, least of all “Jaws 19.” But it did pave the way for a future in which a lesser, if entertaining, film series it helped inspire has an opportunity to thrive in 2015. Check out a preview of “Hot Tub Time Machine 2” as fans gets ready to take another dip, just when we thought it was safe to go back into the water.
Jere Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multimedia NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.