by Philip Price
I don’t know if it’s because I’m older and maybe less impressionable, but while I found the original “Hot Tub Time Machine” to be humorous in its attempt at pure ridiculousness this sequel seems to be latching so hard to the absurdity of the first that it just falls flat on its face every single time it tries. I guess trying is maybe too kind of a word as it seems that is the last thing on the people behind this debacle’s mind as they contort and twist their way around one too many reasons why John Cusack isn’t back for this go around. I can’t say it really adds or takes away anything with Cusack not being present in the sequel, but more he was smart to stay away from it even if the truth is he wasn’t asked back at all. The funnier route to go would have been to publicly acknowledge how difficult the actor was to work with by having his friends in the film say how they never really liked him anyway and that he quit hanging out with them after they got back to the present and leave it at that. Instead, the script from Josh Heald, who also wrote the original and who has only penned one other film outside the hot tub franchise called “Mardi Gras: Spring Break” is doing nothing here but walking in circles and hoping the chemistry between the characters will be enough to elicit laughs from the audience. Instead, the friendships seem stale, the tone is beyond unenthusiastic and worst of all the movie just sits there with second rate components and characters who have no idea what they’re doing. This should be a sequel where, much like its predecessor, it exists simply to have a little fun or as an excuse to let off a little steam and laugh at something meaningless, but rather than simply go for emphasizing the camaraderie between the cast and letting these guys pre-defined senses of humor spill out over the presented outlandish scenarios both Heald and director Steve Pink bog them down in semantics of the plot and scenarios so forced we can’t hardly buy into any of it being remotely funny despite the one thing anyone going into this should know is that it’s all completely ridiculous. Ridiculous can be funny, but forcing laughs never is and that is the greatest offense of “Hot Tub Time Machine 2.”
We begin by being reintroduced to the main cast of characters including Lou (Rob Corddry) and Nick (Craig Robinson) who tell us what they’ve been up to since radically reinventing their lives while Nick updates us on the going-ons of Adam (Cusack) who he has a “feeling” will return at some point, but don’t count on that being during this film. We are then treated to Nick’s rendition of a Lisa Loeb track that’s genuinely funny, but already been spoiled in the marketing as the film introduces a moral conflict within Nick that could go somewhere interesting, but doesn’t. Instead, the film devolves from here into the adventures of Lou who might be the most unlikable character in cinematic history, congratulations Corddy! Lou, as seen at the end of the first film, has used his knowledge of the future to make himself filthy rich and the CEO of Lougle ... you get it? During a party in Lou’s honor, he is shot by an unknown assassin in the penis. This prompts both Nick and Jacob (Clark Duke), who doesn’t seem to be using his knowledge of the future for any gain, to once again use the time traveling hot tub to try and travel back to the past, figure out who Lou’s murderer is and stop him before it ever happens. Of course, when messing with time travel things can always get a little crazy and the group of guys somehow end up ten years in the future. Jacob gives a whole long explanation as to why they ended up in the future instead of the past which ultimately comes down to the fact that the “tub takes who where you need to go, not where you want to go.” What this really means is that Lou’s assassin came from the future and wasn’t already willing to kill him in the past. There’s a whole side story dealing with some kind of invention that makes time travel possible dealing with Lou’s associate, Brad (Kumail Nanjiani), and Adam’s future son, Adam Jr. (Adam Scott), which doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense because at the age Adam Jr. is at in the future, Nick, Lou and Jacob would have likely been aware of him, but it doesn’t matter because a movie called ‘HTTM2’ only cares when it wants to.
I usually don’t get this irritated with movies in general, especially comedies. Comedies, for me, are the most subjective kinds of movies and so I never feel a grudge or insulted if someone disagrees with me when it comes to what I and them find funny. I feel like I grant more sympathy to actors willing to go out on a limb and risk doing comedy and so I appreciate it when there is an honest attempt at humor. One can seemingly tell when those in a comedy are simply showing up, reading their lines and looking forward to getting the day over with though and that kind of vibe is written all over this movie. For example, if we’re talking about the kind of jokes you’ll get in ‘HTTM2’ we are talking about one where a futuristic game show exists called “Choozy Doozy” hosted by someone looking eerily like Christian Slater (it is Christian Slater, but not as Christian Slater which would have been funnier than the whole set piece). In this game the audience shouts out suggestions of crazy things the contestants should do before they vote on the best idea for which the contestant has to perform in order to win. What they win or if there is a challenger, I don’t know – we didn’t get that far. As the movie deals with a celebrity edition of the show Nick is of course plucked from his task of finding Lou’s future murderer and brought onto the show. As things can only go in a crude, R-rated comedy Lou makes a suggestion from the audience that Nick fornicate with a dude and apparently in ten years the entire viewing audience will be rooting to see that happen. The twist, and I’m sorry I’m not sorry if you feel I’m spoiling anything here, is that whoever choozes it has to dooze it, if you know what I’m sayin’. This leads to a scene in which actors such as Craig Robinson and Rob Corddry literally had to shoot a scene where Corddry gets on all fours and has to ask Robinson’s character to be gentle, where they critique ass hair and then contemplate how emotionally invested they should get. It’s not that there isn’t humor in this somewhere as it is nice to see Corddry’s Lou get a little bit of what’s coming to him, but it is just so desperate for laughs it’s pathetic.
There are only a few slightly redeeming things to be found here, most coming from the existence of Duke’s Jacob as the most level-headed person in sight. It’s almost as if every other character in this story comes from a world where decency doesn’t exist. Duke, who I’ve always had a soft spot for given he comes from a small town about an hour from where I live and because he made small, immature comedies like “Sex Drive” all the more bearable and funny is the only one who seems to have some kind of investment here. Maybe it’s because his Jacob is not only the most level-headed, but the only remotely likable character in the whole thing. That is, until Adam Scott shows up and the two of them form a kind of force that might power the movie towards smarter, more refined comedy, but are unsuccessful due not only to Lou and Nick being the stars of the film, but also because Scott is strapped with playing a bit of a prudish loser. This is problematic because Scott plays it as if he knows he’s acting like a prudish loser which makes Adam Jr. feel like an even bigger schmuck than the more oblivious and humble facade he’s supposed to represent. This is all a shame really, as we know director Pink can make a solid comedy and more for just directing the first film. He made last year’s under appreciated “About Last Night” re-make with Kevin Hart and made his debut with 2006’s “Accepted” which I love for reasons more for the stage of life I was at when I saw it than having anything to do with the actual quality of the film, but regardless, the point is, I know the guy can do better than this. I’d like to think I haven’t completely outgrown the carefree and sophomoric sense of humor I always found endearing in people who never thought themselves too good to appreciate those kinds of jokes and then I remind myself I still laughed at the likes of “Horrible Bosses 2,” “22 Jump Street” and even parts of “Sex Tape” last year more than I did at any of this. I’m reassured it isn’t me, but that ‘HTTM2’ really is a piece of crap.