A sure-fire entry to the pantheon of ‘belated sequels no-one was asking for’, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 arrives five years after its predecessor and distinctly lacking its original star; one John Cusack. That titbit might well actually be the most interesting thing about this movie too. Not that simply a star abandoned his series; that in 2015 John Cusack decided this movie wasn’t worth his time considering he’s happy to churn out straight-to-video crap like Drive Hard, The Numbers Station or The Prince on such a regular basis nowadays.* At least Hot Tub Time Machine 2 was getting a theatrical release.
Well it turns out that Cusack made the correct decision to bail on this one. This movie is, perhaps appropriately considering its tone, a Hangover-style sequel that merely diminishes any fond memories one might have for the original (which was OK for what it was). That’s not to say that it just re-hashes the plot of the first as, to be fair, at least some effort has gone into the concept for this sequel.
In the present day, the vile Lou (Rob Corddry) now lives a life of excess as a rock star/tech mogul, having abused the time machine to beat the now-non-existent Google to the punch. Similarly Nick (Craig Robinson) has made his fortune by releasing his own recordings of hit songs before the original artists did. Unsurprisingly given the nature of his character, Lou has made a lot of enemies along the way and during one big party, a mysterious assailant shoots him. Naturally, this assassin aims straight for his crotch giving us the second of a whole line of male-genitalia based jokes, none of which are ever funny. Lou, Nick and Jacob (Clark Duke – also returning) quickly rush to the titular hot tub in an attempt to stop the killer, but wind up ten years into the future instead.
This is the one germ of good idea that this otherwise witless sequel possesses, taking its cue from the Back to the Future series, it uses its second outing to take us to an imagined near future rather than the nostalgia-tinged past. Upon their arrival Hot Tub Time Machine 2 looks like it’s going to have some fun with making up a few futuristic gadgets and predicting what the social climate might be like in a decade’s time, but then almost immediately forgets this in favour of being a crass, debauched bro-comedy.
The most unfortunate side-effect of Cusack’s departure is that it brings Corddry to the front and centre. I find him a grating presence at the best of times but when he’s playing a character as odious as Lou he becomes nigh-unbearable. While his antics in the first film were similarly caustic, he was still able to gain some sympathy due to being such a pathetic failure. Here that goes out the window when every one of his abrasive actions seems to either glorify himself or humiliate others, not in the least Jacob, rendering him a truly hateful man.
In an attempt to fill the Cusack-shaped hole in the film returning director Steve Pink has opted not to find another 80s star and instead aimed for a younger audience by hiring Parks and Recreation’s Adam Scott to play Cusack’s son. Scott’s a naturally likeable screen presence but his primary purpose here seems just to be humiliated. This reaches its peak during a jaw-droppingly awful extended sequence around the film’s mid-point. It’s hard to even describe exactly how hideous this scene is but in attempting to be a satire of what reality TV shows might become Pink has just created an agonizingly long male rape gag. If that weren’t bad enough, it loses even more points in my book for wasting a cameo by Christian Slater, who could have been this movie’s Crispin Glover role if they’d bothered to give him anything to do. Community’s Gillian Jacobs is also given a thankless role as Scott’s fiancé.
For what it’s worth, I remember reasonably enjoying the original Hot Tub Time Machine five years ago, but none of its jokes ingrained themselves in my memory the way this film wishes they did. There are a number of call-backs that rather that making you laugh just leave you thinking “oh yeah they did/said that in the last one”. Admittedly, there are a couple of exchanges between the leads that feel ad-libbed and, first time around at least (they run them to the ground), generate a few chuckles, particularly ones involving references to other time-travel movies. Otherwise though there’s next-to-no plot or humour to save this vulgar, needless sequel from being anything other than an embarrassment for all involved.
*In fairness, he did also have Maps to the Stars and Grand Piano out in the last year or so.