For a movie whose returns were already diminishing before the end credits rolled on its first installment, it should be noted that Hot Tub Time Machine 2 has to be considered moderately successful for being intermittently funny yet immediately forgettable much like its first go around. That spotty hit-to-miss ratio isn’t the only similarity ported over from the original: There are the now requisite comedy sequel jokes about repeating the winning formula as to be expected, but the film also yet again criminally wastes a talented female performer (Lizzy Caplan in the original, Community’s Gillian Jacobs here), tries to truck in sentimentality where none should be sought and begins to peter out as the third act chugs along. A key point of departure, however, is the misanthropic streak that runs a mile wide through the film’s heart, a byproduct of eliminating John Cusack’s character from the original (explained away as the result of his becoming a recluse) and giving the sociopathic elements (Rob Cordry, Craig Robinson and Clark Duke) center stage. While for many this will prove a deal-breaker, the whole film takes on a sort of jaundiced patina combined with the original’s go-for-broke zeal that I found mildly appealing.
The plot is something of a perpetual motion human centipede, devouring itself in the process of unfurling as Lou (Cordry) has become a billionaire mogul having stayed in the past while his son Jacob (Duke) skulks around the periphery acting as his father’s butler and mixologist, looking for more out of life. Nick (Robinson) has similarly cashed in on the time travel caper by ripping off songs from famous artists before their original release date (Lisa Loeb’s “Stay” is his latest hit as the film opens, a development that has turned Loeb into a cat wrangler in this timeline). Lou is shot in the groin by a mystery assailant at a massive party (being the most despicable character in the film, the list of suspects is lengthy) and our ersatz heroes must once again take to the eponymous hot tub to prevent this past from taking place. However, they awake to find themselves thrown 10 years into the future, on a parallel timeline only to find that the assailant must have traveled back in time from this future to commit the deed. Can this trio (joined by Adam Scott as the son of John Cusack’s character) solve the mystery in time to ensure Lou’s continued existence? Do we or the movie even care?
Yes, and no. Even though the film connects and completely whiffs in almost equal amounts, I can’t deny laughing steadily throughout the brief running time (it only ekes over an hour and a half with the benefit of credits). The film too often substitutes calling out shared points of reference with its audience in lieu of a joke (a condition that from now on shall be known as MacFarlanitis), as though talking about Boogie Nights in the speech cadence of a joke constitutes a joke being made and wastes multiple talented performers at the expense of the main trio. The aforementioned Jacobs is joined by both Scott and Kumail Nanjiani as massive comedic talents underserved by their roles here, although Scott being dragged through the scatological stations of the cross as the film progresses finds a few laughs here and there.
It’s highly unnecessary that this film even exists, a fact that isn’t lost on the filmmakers and performers here, as you’d be hard pressed to find the audience clamoring for a return five years down the line to these characters. It should be noted that the film was finished in 2013 and either subject to extensive reshoots or re-editing, leading to the characters constantly being overdubbed to reflect the actual year of release when describing its plot, a final bit of unintentional time travel humor being inserted into the mean-spirited bouillabaisse. I wouldn’t go back in time to stop myself from checking Hot Tub Time Machine 2, but if I jumped ahead a couple weeks I’m not sure I’ll even remember having seen it.