I’m the last person in the world I would expect to like a sequel to 2010’s Hot Tub Time Machine. Not because I didn’t enjoy the first movie; I did, but follow-ups to successful comedies rarely capture the same madness twice (hello, The Hangover 2) and the premise of Hot Tub Time Machine seemed just silly enough to support one film.
Well, I can’t say that Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is an especially good movie, but it skates by thanks to the chemistry between its three returning stars — and its willingness to go a bit more insane and cruel than its predecessor.
The first thing to note about Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is that John Cusack is not in the mix this time — his character, Adam, is explained away as writing sci-fi novels in seclusion somewhere, leaving us with no heart to the film and essentially just three jerks. Our returning protagonists have chosen to ignore the standard warning that altering history via time travel is something one does not mess with. To hell with that, say Lou (Rob Corddry), Nick (Craig Robinson) and Jacob (Clark Duke). Lou has invented search engine “Lougle,” while Nick has appropriated every major hit of the past two decades as his own and become an incredibly successful singer/songwriter. Jacob has no particular ambition of his own but enjoys the fortune that his daddy Lou has made.
When Lou, who is pretty much a hateful asshole, gets his penis shot off by an unknown assassin at a party, it’s revealed that he spent a gazillion dollars to obtain the hot tub from the first film and stash it secretly in his house. So he, Nick and Jacob attempt to travel to the past to stop Lou’s attacker — only to find out that they’ve followed him to the future instead, the year 2025 to be exact, and that the assassin himself went back in time to attempt his murder of Lou. The movie is so cheaply made that 2025 hardly looks any different to now, which is kind of amusing itself.
From there the plot, such as it is, becomes more nonsensical. So like many modern comedies, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 starts piling on the homophobia and misogyny instead and becomes more willfully unpleasant. This is where the film goes really off the rails: the first act, in which we see how these three louts have messed with history to their own benefit, is arguably the funniest. The rest of the movie gets meaner and dumber, although it is occasionally salvaged by some funny interplay between the leads. All three of them are capable of riffing on the fly and making an extended joke work, and even with the meager material they have here they manage to make some of the movie pass less painfully.
Adam Scott joins the antics halfway through in the straight man role as Cusack’s future son, but he gets little of interest to do. Same with Gillian Jacobs as his fiancée, who is largely wasted in a thankless, mostly insulting role. The bulk of the story and humor falls on the shoulders of Corddry, Robinson and Duke, and I guess it’s a compliment to say that they never retreat from the basic stupidity, venality and unlikability of their characters. That, if anything, is what gives Hot Tub Time Machine 2 any edge it has: the cast, screenwriter (Josh Heald) and director (Steve Pink) are all willing to stay the course and keep this thing on a nasty, offensive track.
Fortunately the movie’s running time is relatively brief — unlike, say, those Hangover sequels that nearly hit the two-hour mark. Just when you’re getting tired of it, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 ends with a relatively funny credits sequence showing that the gang have learned absolutely nothing from their adventures and are screwing with history even more than they have beforehand. If this was a brilliantly written film, with cruel but still incisive humor and better characters, the idea of giving the finger to the first movie — which at least had some decent “values” to it — and plunging fully into the darkness might yield a black comedy masterpiece. But this is not that movie.
Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is out in theaters now.