The great thing about the title Hot Tub Time Machine is that it lets you know exactly what you’re getting into: a goofy comedy about time travel. Probably the biggest surprise of the first dip into this idea was how much money it made, so of course a sequel was inevitable. Unfortunately what little charm and appeal the idea had has been completely left out to dry in this shallow follow up.
Last time, four friends travelled back in time to the 80s and relived an epic weekend they had together as teens. This time, three jerks go into the future and treat everyone, especially each other, like shit. Lou (Rob Corddry), Nick (Craig Robinson), and Jacob (Clark Duke) all return and are now living large after the Hot Tub Time Machine made them rich. John Cusack wisely skipped this one so they try to fill his spot with Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation) who plays his future son. Despite almost equal screen time for the four main characters, Cusack was the lead by virtue of being the biggest star and playing the one who brings everyone together. He was also the most relatable character. The three remainders mostly just toss insults at one another and make you wonder why they all still hang out.
Without Cusack, Corddry’s Lou becomes the focus. Remember what an unsympathetic suicidal loser Lou was? Well now that he’s a billionaire mogul, he’s even worse. It’s no wonder somebody shoots him in the dick. Nick and Jacob drag a bloody Lou into the Hot Tub so they can go back in time and save his dick. Instead they end up in 2015, because whatever. They find Adam Jr. (Scott) and spend the bulk of the film basically ruining his life. I cannot stress enough how much this film’s comedy relies on the pain and humiliation of its characters. Lou works as a supporting character and I’ve always liked Corddry but it takes a special actor and some skilled writing to have us care about this kind of person (Danny McBride’s Kenny Powers comes to mind).
Hot Tub Time Machine 2 feels like screenwriter Josh Heald showed producers a first draft and they rushed it into production on the assumption that the cast would make it funny and its audience wouldn’t care about plot. They have traded in 80s nostalgia for an uninspired future. From ‘remember when…’ to ‘this will never happen’. Hey, it worked for Back to the Future, right? The filmmakers originally wanted to call it Hot Tub Time Machine 3 because of its futuristic setting, if Paramount hadn’t squashed that idea it would have been the most original thing about it.
Director Steve Pink attempts to recreate some of the jokes from the first one, but picked the wrong ones. There are no gags nearly as funny as Crispin Glover’s one-armed bellboy, but we get to see Lou and Nick forced into another homosexual situation in a scene that feels like it goes on for 15 minutes. Chevy Chase shows up just long enough to mistake Jacob for a girl again. The cast is actually stacked with funny people, with Jason Jones (The Daily Show), Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley), and Gillian Jacobs (Community) doing what they can to help the leads, but nobody is given much to work with.
There are several blatant oversights in the film’s logic but I will not attempt to use them to criticize a movie called Hot Tub Time Machine 2. It would have been better if they just threw away all lame attempts at logic, which is basically what they do in an insane end title sequence reminiscent of last summer’s 22 Jump Street end credits. As with that lackluster sequel, the end brought with it the best part: putting the characters in a series of increasingly outlandish premises, giving us glimpses of future adventures. This should have been what the whole movie was like, instead they just pick one setting and soak in it ’til everyone gets nauseous and pruned.