When a mid-level studio executive – or more likely his assistant or intern – writes the post-mortem on what went wrong with Hot Tub Time Machine 2, the five-years-in-the-making sequel to Hot Tub Time Machine, a modest commercial and critical hit, that executive, assistant, or intern will point at the inexplicable decision to move forward with the sequel sans John Cusack, the heart and soul (among other things) that saved Hot Tub Time Machine from descending into clichéd jokes and forgettable gags. Whatever the reason, Cusack’s, the studio’s, or both, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 spends the better part of its seemingly interminable running time (93 minutes) spinning its time-traveling wheels on over-broad, over-obvious satire (mostly of reality TV, an easy target), drug- and alcohol-fueled gags (all uninspired with one notable exception), and a premise built around saving Hot Tub Time Machine 2’s most loathsome character from a fate worse than death (i.e., a much-deserved shotgun blast to the crotch).
When we re-encounter Nick Webber (Craig Robinson), Lou Dorchen (Rob Corddry), and Lou’s son, Jacob Dorchen (Clark Duke), they’re living material-rich, inauthentic lives. Webber has turned his foray into the past into a music-generating, hit-making career while Lou beat Google to the search-engine game with the appropriately named “Lougle.” Jacob has fared the worst, relegated to butler/servant duties to his relentlessly rude, relentlessly abusive, drug- and alcohol-abusing father. Given the constant verbal takedowns, there’s little reason within the film proper as to why they remain friends or associates. The reason, of course, has little to do with bro-bonds and everything to do with the demands of sequel making. What passes for a plot involves an attempt on Lou’s life (that shotgun blast to the crotch we mentioned up top), necessitating another fully clothed soak in the title’s hot tub time machine.
Instead of going back to the past, Lou, Jacob, and Nick end up ten years in the future, 2025 to be precise. Minus a few minor technical advances, including emotionally fragile, AI-powered smart cars and hoverboards for dogs, not much has changed in the decade, due, most likely, to a combination of a relatively modest budget and a paucity of imagination from returning director Steve Pink and screenwriter Josh Heald. It takes several painful minutes, including a digression into time travel theory borrowed from, among others, Rian Johnson’s Looper, time isn’t linear or even circular, but filled with alternate timelines and presumably alternate universes. That’s just a long-winded way of saying that Lou’s present-day killer took a trip back in time, leading to an urgency-free search for the killer’s identity with the help of Adam Yates Jr. (Adam Scott), the son of Hot Tub Time Machine’s missing protagonist, Adam Yates (Cusack).
Pink and Heald drop a few hints as to the senior Yates’ whereabouts, even going as far as suggesting he’s Lou’s potential killer, but they drop that red herring once Adam Junior joins the time-traveling crew. Lou’s mirror image in practically every way, Adam Junior gets the obligatory journey from repressed, feminized male to unrepentant, egotistical jerk. Adam Junior gets Hot Tub Time Machine 2’s one memorable scene, an acid trip to end all acid trips (2025 psychotropic drugs put 2015 psychotropic drugs to shame), but a single scene isn’t enough to save, let alone, redeem a singularly lazy, imagination-deficient film like Hot Tub Time Machine 2. Pink and Heald rely heavily on adding F-bombs every chance they get, a sure sign they have little, if anything, to offer moviegoers. Even worse? Pink and Heald go full-on dude-bro as Hot Tub Time Machine 2 unravels, throwing in casual misogyny and homophobia either because they can or because they have nothing better to offer (probably both). It not only smacks of desperation, it’s painfully, thankfully out-of-date, as in fifteen years out of date. Maybe the next sequel – if there is one, of course – will not only bring Cusack back, but also update the humor to reflect comedy in the second half of the second decade of the 21st century.