Photo: Paramount Pictures
Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is so bad it might make you question your allegiance to the original Hot Tub Time Machine. In 2010, Steve Pink’s comedy felt like a blast of fresh air, with its endearingly silly premise, its see-what-sticks humor, and its charming setup of a bunch of losers trying to transform their destinies by changing the way 1986 turned out. The new film has none of that. But it tries to. It tries to repeat everything the original did, and winds up leaving you stone-faced and depressed. I think there were more laughs in Schindler’s List.
Anyway, since our heroes’ original bout with the hot tub of destiny resulted in lives of fulfillment, success, and tremendous wealth, the new one starts off with them … well, they’re feeling like something’s missing amid all that empty success. One thing is missing, for sure, and that’s John Cusack’s Adam Yates, who was the closest thing to a hero the original film had — the generic nice guy who got the girl at the end. Cusack wasn’t available this time around, so the cast has been supplemented with Adam Scott, playing Cusack-Adam’s son in the distant future.
The imbalance caused by Cusack’s absence is the first problem. Not because Cusack was so great, but because now the closest thing the film has to a lead is Rob Corddry, reprising his role as Lou Dorchen, who was an irritating, one-note schlub in the first film and is now an irritating, one-note rock-star and internet billionaire — he’s the front man of Motley Lou and the inventor of Lougle. His friend, Craig Robinson’s Nick Webber, has become a hit songwriter, having gotten to several hit songs before their actual creators did. (Lisa Loeb shows up at one point, to tell Nick that the familiarity of one of his songs feels “almost violating.”) Lou’s son, Jacob (Clark Duke), meanwhile, is a little frustrated that his main role in life appears to be Lou’s butler.
The plot this time is set in motion by Lou’s getting shot in the dick by someone seeking vengeance; it’s up for grabs who might be out to get him, since Lou is an equal-opportunity jerkwad. In order to track down the would-be assassin, the trio hop back in the tub and wind up in 2025, suggesting that Lou’s assailant is from the future. Or something. Anyway, the plot is the second problem — in that the film even has one. The ambling, hangout quality of the first movie is now largely gone, replaced by an actual (poorly executed) narrative. This time, the film asks us to care … well, not care, exactly, but to pay attention to the minutiae of the story line. Which is really way too much for a movie called Hot Tub Time Machine 2 to ask of us.
But what really kills this one dead is that it’s got no good laughs. It tries to retread the same gags as the first one, but whereas the first one treated its humor in a seemingly randomized manner, this one keeps beating things to death, repeating each gag or referencing it ad nauseam. I lost track of how many times the expression “shot in the dick” was uttered. And the film seems to think that the idea of our heroes becoming wildly successful thanks to their ability to go back in time and get to all the hit songs and TV shows and cool inventions before everyone else — which was really just a throwaway gag in the first film — is hilarious and worth repeating, over and over again. And what was a transgressively random (and possibly homophobic) blow-job joke in the first film is reincarnated here as an ugly, drawn-out anal-sex joke. It’s designed to make us cringe, but it succeeds instead in making us feel embarrassed for the filmmakers. Hot Tub Time Machine 2 thinks it’s pushing boundaries when what it’s really doing is reinforcing them by reminding us of all the things with which the first film, with its strange, off-the-cuff energy, managed to get away.