Expectations for “Hot Tub Time Machine 2” are probably higher than they should be for any movie named “Hot Tub Time Machine 2.” The first film benefitted from the bar being set in the bowels of the basement, while hopes are a bit higher here — and they can’t possibly be met. Alas, there is no “Great White Buffalo” this time around.
“Hot Tub Time Machine 2” begins with a news footage montage explaining how Nick (Craig Robinson) and Lou (Rob Corddry) have used their hot-tub-time-machine-endowed knowledge of the future for money and success, while Jacob (Clark Duke) merely enjoys his father’s wealth. Nick has claimed the most popular pop songs of the last few decades as his own, becoming a top-selling musician. As inventor of the search engine Lougle (among other things stolen from people in the future), Lou’s abrasive personality has earned him almost as many enemies as digits in his bank account. When he is shot at his own party, there are a number of suspects for the crime. Nick and Jacob hurriedly drag his dying body into the titular whirlpool in the hopes of reversing the damage, but instead of going back in time, they accidentally skip into the future with Chevy Chase briefly — and without any humor — explaining why that is supposed to make sense. They get a glimpse of what lies ahead as they try to discover who killed Lou, and it’s not pretty — or even that interesting.
While “Hot Tub Time Machine” is one of the better films John Cusack has been in recently, the first movie’s straight man made one of his smarter career decisions in the last decade and skipped this round. Though he was the biggest name in the first film, he was given the least to do. The characters quickly explain his absence by saying he’s on a journey of discovery after writing a science fiction novel that mirrors their adventures. Cusack has been replaced in spirit by Adam Scott, who is written to get far more laughs than his predecessor as the new addition to the group, but isn’t necessarily any funnier. He plays a man Lou, Nick and Jacob meet in 2025 who helps them solve the mystery of Lou’s murder while showing them the ropes of the future.
Corddry’s Lou was an enjoyable, over-the-top asshole in the first film, providing most of its humor, even while surrounded by an equally strong cast. However, here, he’s just a truly disgusting human being. Worse still, he’s not that funny. Robinson’s Nick takes the top spot this time around; we laughed harder at his stolen, half-remembered version of Lisa Loeb’s “Stay” — and the filming of its awesomely cheesy music video — than we had any right to. Duke’s Jacob is still the butt of many of the script’s jokes, despite the fact that his character is the most successful in 2025.
The film’s setting is also less funny than the original’s 1980s visit, lacking both the nostalgia of the first film as well as the imagination one might hope for with a look a decade into the future. The franchise follows the basic trajectory of the “Back to the Future” trilogy, with the first film traveling to the past, and the second going into the near future. This film’s ending points toward a trip to America’s history, a la the Old West in “Back to the Future 3.” Even its characters admit that the 2025 of “Hot Tub Time Machine 2” doesn’t look that different from 2015, whether from lack of budget or brains. One dog riding a hoverboard and a few smart, driverless cars doesn’t make for an enjoyable jump into the future for either the characters or the audience.
“Hot Tub Time Machine 2” also breaks its own rules and defies its internal logic. Booze and coke are necessary for time travel — until they’re not. How the trio became so successful should be kept a secret, but Lou, Nick and Jacob aren’t subtle when they discuss the merits of the time machine around other people and in loud cell phone conversations. Director Steve Pink and one of the original film’s screenwriters, Josh Heald, both return, along with the bulk of the main cast, but it’s not enough to build on or even simply replicate wholesale the fun of “Hot Tub Time Machine.” The first film was inspired lunacy that reveled in its own silliness and dared the audience not to enjoy themselves, while the second outing is 90 minutes of “You look like” jokes, bodily fluids and some boobs. The problem with making a sequel to a film that succeeded largely on surprise is that the element is gone the second time around. We won’t say that we didn’t laugh, but we did about as much as you’d guess while watching a movie named “Hot Tub Time Machine 2” sober. [C]