HOT TUB TIME MACHINE (or, Oh, I see what you did there)

Me Likey DrinkyPeople ask me why I drink. Well, to be honest, they’re often asking me what I drank, and the setting is usually an emergency room in a region where I don’t speak the language, and, naturally, I have no pants. Wait, what was I saying? Right: People wonder why I medicate myself when my life is so great. I have a loving wife (the lovely and fearsome Duchess), four cute cats (and the facial scars to prove it) and a thriving writing career. What’s to get hum about?

Other writers, of course.

Professional jealousy is a terrible thing. I’m not talking about people who strike bigger money lodes than I do, or people whose sales are higher – I actually don’t worry about that. No, what I get hum about in regards to other writers is when they have better ideas than I do, or ideas I simply wish I’d had. Pretty much the moment I meet another writer, right in-between the friendly handshake and the polite cocktail banter, I start hating them because of some idea they had that I would kill to steal.

Which brings us to Hot Tub Time Machine.

Went to see this over the weekend despite mixed reviews and several warnings that it was gross, immature, misogynistic, homophobic, and dumb. The sheer power of that title was too much to resist, so The Duchess and me and our friend Ken went to check it out. Is it misogynistic? Yep. Homophobic? Yep. Dumb? Yep. Funny? Off and on – overall I enjoyed it, and there were some side-splitting moments, but overall it’s a mediocre movie. I honestly wouldn’t steal much from this movie – the SFnal aspect of time travel is treated as a gonzo plot device and nothing more, and they quickly borrow some well-worn tropes to set the main story in motion (Butterfly Effect anyone?). There aren’t too many surprising twists as the story resolves itself, and most of the jokes wouldn’t work outside the framework of this movie and the combined charm of the lead actors, which is considerable.

What would I steal from this movie? Cincinnati.

Here be spoilers, so turn back if you regard spoilers as bad. The one thing I think this movie does that is interesting and effective from a writing point of view is fail to explain several running jokes and references. Not fail to explain them, actually, but rather boldly lampshade them and then stand around with its chest thrust out like Mussolini soaking up the crowd as it refuses to explain these bits of business. There’s a moment early in the film when John Cusack’s character is reminiscing about his old girlfriend from the 1980s, and the three middle-aged friends who form 3/4s of the main characters start chanting “White Buffalo, white buffalo” over and over again in decreasing volume. The younger kid in the car with them demands they explain themselves but they just keep chanting. It happens once more in the course of the story, but it is never explained in any way.

At another moment one of the characters refers to something that happened in Cincinnati, and the kid mentions finding a shoebox in Cusack’s closet labeled Cincinnati. The other two friends react violently, aghast that Cusack would a) keep it in the closet and b) label it clearly, adding that whatever it is is “admissible”. Again, despite thirty seconds of screen time devoted to it and the strong reactions of the characters, Cincinnati is never explained. Or even mentioned again.

Finally, and perhaps my favorite, there is the Boozy Bear: A man dressed in a bear costume shows up constantly throughout the movie, drinking and dancing. He’s just there; no one comments on it, no one asks about it, and the bear is never explained.

I love this stuff. A lot of writers get caught up explaining every single grace note and reference, terrified that people might not get what they’re trying to say, or so caught up in their own perceived cleverness that they have to underscore every bit to make sure you see it in all its glory. The three credited writers didn’t exactly create the Schindler’s List[1] of Sci-Fi, or even a movie you’ll remember two years from now. But these kinds of bits, left for you to make up your own backstory to explain, elevate even a lame story at least slightly, and I am a complete sucker for them. I’ll spend the next several months trying to figure out if there’s any clues I missed as to their provenance, and then I’ll spend several months having dreams about Dancing Bears in Cincinnati. Trust me, I’ve been through this before, though usually it’s a David Lynch movie, and not frickin’ Hot Tub Time Machine.

[1]Still one of three movies that always makes me cry. The other are discussed in Volume 10, Issue 3 of my zine The Inner Swine.


  1. Bill Cameron

    Having lived in Cincinnati during the Era When the Sheriff Arrested Seven Photos, I have to say that the Shocking, Secret Shoebox Event of Cincinnati was probably not too shocking once one got outside the Cincinnati city limits.

  2. Sean Ferrell

    Dear Jeff,
    When discussing writers of whom you are jealous it is okay to mention me by name.

  3. jsomers (Post author)

    Actually, all this time I had you confused with this guy: Sorry! Please stop calling me.

  4. jsomers (Post author)

    BC, you’re ruining everything. Again.

  5. Elisabeth Black

    Like the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. I still think about that. What was in the briefcase?!!!

  6. jsomers (Post author)

    Elisabeth, Exactly! Great example. Did we need to know what was in it? Nope. Did we (and do we still) discuss it? Yup. Would we be terribly disappointed if we were ever told exactly what it was supposed to be? Probably. These bits of business expand the feel of the universe created, make it really feel like there’s more to it than just what we’re being shown.

  7. Billy Brown

    My favorite bit of cryptoreferencing is the oft-noted, never explained “Noodle Incident” from the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip.

  8. jsomers (Post author)

    BB, Another classic example. I would sell organs to have a brilliancy like that.

  9. Billy Brown

    BW’s subtle genius brings figurative tears to my eyes. He even inspired me to become a writer-I’ll email you the specific strip…it’s been my desktop background for eons.

  10. Todd

    I must say, I suffer from the same headslapping realization of “why the eff didn’t I think of that” feeling as a comedian, but then again we both must realize do we only ever want to be solely impressed by our own work? Never finding side splitting humor by not being able to lay back and let someone else entertain me because I have all the good ideas is actually a sad prospect I have come to realize. Anyway, the Cincinnati scene is brilliant. My quest for the answer is actually what brought me here. I owe you the compliment of the fact that this is the first author/videographer/blog site that I have ever found myself enjoying as the result of a “blind query” and not an intentional search because I am already a fan, or at the recomendation of someone whose judgement I value. That said, I believe the answer to the “Cincinnati shoebox riddle” is out there, but I also believe I will have to do some real investigative research to find the answer. I have come to realize the answer is not going to be easy and it sure won’t come in the form of a spoiler or a freebie, I will have to work for it. Alas, if I am indeed correct you still have the opportunity to put your own originality stamp on this type of lampshade/mystery/open ended humor, as long as there is truly no explanation for it. Now I can just feel it, as you are reading these words that you are thinking this is a waste of time and that I have no idea what I am talking about. Proof that you should still have hope of originality of this idea you say: I was chuckling at the Great White Buffalo scene as my wife leaned over and whispered “I don’t get it.” I told her “I will explain later, it’s no big deal.” This is a common occurance with her and I concerning vague movie humor, history, psycholgy, religion, military, ah hell – a lot of things. Like all good comedians I am a fountain of knowledge. Anyway, we make it to the car and she is still actually curious enough to ask me about the Great White Buffalo. It is a common Native American belief among every tribe that I am aware of that the birth of a white buffalo signifies a new era of long lasting peace and plentiful food, since buffalo was the meat staple for Native Americans the reveared them all quite specially, never killing more than necessary, using every single body part etc…If memory serves, the birth rate of a GWB is damn near, if not, one in a million, hence all the one percent references and reverence to the name by only whispering of it in the movie and what not. Hell Google it or give it a Wikipedia search and I promise you the GWB will prove itself. With that said, I wouldn’t corner the market on mysterious/explanationless humor just yet. I would wait until I find the answer to the Cincinnati riddle before I would start to celibrate if I was you, if my theory is correct it would make the writer just another Ocean’s 11-13 type of cat who doesn’t throw out a totally mysterious line or scene, just one that makes you either think or work for the answer. Well, I am off to continue my quest for the “shoe box labeled Cincinnati” riddle, and I suspect I will be the first to find it if indeed my theory is correct and and it can be found. However, in the event I do find that answer I am holding it ransom from you, not because you’re dying to know, but because I will open the door for you to be “inspired into creative originallity” instead of stuck between drinking your liver inside out or becoming a material thief…We will discuss the terms of the ransom upon my finding of the answer. I am confident we will talk again soon…Ta Ta

  11. Todd

    And let us not forget the many squirrel scenes. 1. When Adam gets the call from Nick about Lou’s suicide attempt listen closely to the squirrel documentary on then telley. It goes something like: “The male squirrel undergoes a humiliating process during mating in which the female vomits a putrid secretion after mating that covers his entire body forcing him to go into exile.” 2. When Adam and Lou wake up hung over in the hot tub Adam sees the squirrel on the edge and says “hey little buddy” as Lou wakes up and vomits what looks like the most putrid secretion all over him, blowing him off the hot tub rim. 3. The squirrel is making his way overland in exile at the ski crash/ I wanna f*ck something scene. And 4. The squirrel has exiled himself all the way to Mile High Stadium where he screws up Elway’s touchdown pass making Lou lose the “high stakes” bet…Anyway, there are more cryptic references and “mediocre” isn’t exactly giving this film the credit it deserves. No, it hasn’t been a smash at the box office, niether was The Big Lebowski among many others. This film will eventually have a cult like following, mark my words, it’s for us Family Guy lovers who represent no ratings crowd, but are made up of many millions who would understand a retro reference to ANYthing.

  12. Todd

    And within 72 hours of the original posting he has the answer… I find it ironic that the answer that frees an auther from creativity theft, also happens to double as a literary term any third grader would know! Cusack even verified it true…and yes I have proof. Name your price.

  13. jsomers (Post author)

    I have a small collection of interesting stones. It’s yours.


  14. mary/skippercollector

    I live in Cincinnati and saw HTTM the weekend it opened. I came up with an idea over what happened, and I figured it couldn’t have been anything too obvious, such as Reds or Bengals stuff.
    I realize that my answer is still, technically, in the realm of fan fiction, but as far as I am concerned, this is official.
    I hope the links work. If not you can try copying and pasting.

    Yes, it was the highlight of my day getting an answer!

  15. mary/skippercollector

    I realized after I sent this that I am taking the limelight from the previous poster Todd, but then again, it was MY idea in the first place.
    By the way, in regards to my idea, there are a number of these things in Cincinnati.

  16. Todd

    Believe me Mary the limelight was dim. Anyway I never reposted here for two reasons. 1. I am only bored enough to visit or post to this site while I am at work, and I have been off for 7 days and 2. After I found out the answer, I found out that you had found the answer. When I came upon my theory of the flying pigs I then queried “flying pigs cincinatti hot tub” and badda-boom badda-bing, the tweets belonging to you and Cusack came up. But it wasn’t YOUR idea first, we’ve both been wondering since opening weekend, you just found it first…Therefore I moved on and solved the riddle of the bear;)I finally spoke to Crispin Glover too, and although I respect him as an actor I didn’t bother contacting Cusack, he is too busy being a political wierdo right now. Just because you are an accomplished actor doesn’t mean you know Jack about politics other than a false sense of well being.

  17. mary/skippercollector

    So what was the deal with the bear?
    I did figure out that the blue rayon shirt that John Cusack is wearing when he is miserably getting stoned is actually the bear’s shirt.

  18. Brock

    I think some of you are over analyzing these things. This post comes well after all of your posts, , so I doubt any of you will see it. I came across this conversation while looking for an answer to the Cincinnati scene. 1. In a rob corddry interview he says the whole Cincinnati thing was just an improv, it had no meaning, but may if they do a sequel or prequel. 2. Great white buffalo means one in a million, it doesn’t take research to figure that out, in the scene one of them even says she’s one in a million. 3. The bear. The place is called kodiak, kodiak is a bear, the bear is probably just the mascot of the resort town.

  19. Brock

    I liked the movie and figured out those answers just by watching it, and allowing myself to enjoy it without overanalyzing it. Thats the problem with everyone today. Very few people can just watch a movie or read a book, and just enjoy it, however outlandish or unrealistic it may be.

  20. jsomers (Post author)

    Thanks, Brock, for clearing that up.

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