Paramount Pictures presents a film directed by Steve Pink. Written by Josh Heald. Produced by Andrew Panay. Photographed by Declan Quinn. Edited by Jamie Gross. Music by Christophe Beck. Production designed by Ryan Berg. Starring Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Clark Duke, Adam Scott, Gillian Jacobs, Chevy Chase, Collette Wolfe, Bianca Haase.
2010’s Hot Tub Time Machine delivered exactly what it promised: there was a hot tub, it was a time machine. In that seriously vulgar—and pretty funny, if you can look past that—movie, four estranged friends renewed a bond and also came to terms with their troubled pasts, essentially by rewriting them. The mean-spirited party animal Lou (Rob Corddry) made himself into a billionaire software entrepreneur. Failed musician Nick (Craig Robinson) became the world’s most successful recording artist, mainly by passing off endless song covers as originals, since in this new timeline the originals don’t exist anymore. Jacob (Clark Duke) learned the truth about who his father was (it was Lou, and it was ugly) and has now settled into an agonizing life with his selfish lout of a father. Adam (John Cusack), meanwhile, sorted out his romantic life and ended up married to Lizzy Caplan in a nice house.
In Hot Time Time Machine 2, Cusack is out of the picture, perhaps because his character got the happiest resolution out of the last movie, or perhaps because Cusack wanted too much money. Cusack’s absence (which is commented on) may foretell the quality of this sequel, because without his sense of sad-sack wistfulness that anchored much of the original, Hot Tub 2 casts its lot mainly with a bunch of jerks. The central figure is now the drug-addicted moron Lou, and backing him up are a compulsive plagiarist and a spineless dweeb. And there’s no discipline, either. Like many sequels, Hot Tub 2 takes shortcuts to get back to the series’ central gimmick, and it is so convoluted with endless time travel trips from future to present to past that I’m not sure it makes any sense. And sometimes sequences go way too far, with not enough reason. Take a look at the poster of Hot Tub 2 and you’ll have an idea what the movie is: a cheaper, scruffier, coarser version of the first, with not as much soul.
But…somehow that’s okay. Well, sort of. It helps that the film’s leads are so good at riffing; they somehow turn Hot Tub 2’s demonstrable lack of momentum into a virtue, as odd as that sounds. The movie’s central conceit for getting back in the tub involves tracking down the murder of Lou, which happens in the present in the middle of one of the millionaire’s wild bacchanals. The gang (with still-alive Lou) travel into the future and inhabit their future bodies, which have seen better days (Nick calling the bearded, crazed version of Lou they see in the mirror “Gandalf the Poor” is one of the more printable putdowns). The three navigate the future and try to suss out clues, and soon pick up a fourth time traveler: Adam, Jr. (Adam Scott), Cusack’s long-lost son. Scott, playing a sweet-faced riff on his character from Parks and Recreation, is very funny in the movie, and makes a good match for the three established regulars.
Since he’s the new guy, however, Scott is put through back-to-back sequences that verge on supreme miscalculation, one involving a futuristic game show and the other a trip to the hospital. These scenes have real moments of comic ingenuity (like a bit of very practical medical advice, or anything that deservedly turns the karmic tables on Lou), but they go to uncomfortable extremes. Other moments are more successful: a futuristic drug trip for Adam, Jr., the guys’ reactions to the ridiculous nature of the plot (and Jacob’s relative ease with figuring it out), and a moment where Adam Jr.’s fiancé (Gillian Jacobs), blindsides us with the setup to a perfectly-delivered punchline.
The only defense I can give to the sloppy mess that is Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is that I laughed a lot at it, despite its numerous flaws. It’s not a great comedy, and it sure isn’t a perfect movie, and it’s so rough around the edges it feels like it was slapped together over an industrious weekend. But there’s something so proudly twisted and rebellious about it that I have a sneaky affection for it. It’s so unapologetically mean-spirited, and yet so fast with its jokes that it kind of…gets away with murder.