The first Hot Tub Time Machine surprised me by not sucking. It took a bunch of guys — none of whom were particularly good people — and sent them back in time after a drunken stupor. It was clever and pretty funny, but not the type of thing you think twice about. You watch it, you laugh for 90 minutes, and then maybe revisit it a decade later after you’ve forgotten all of the jokes. But now we have a second film, made five years after the original, and the premise wears thin. John Cusack never appearing doesn’t help things, either.
So, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 opens up in 2015, when all three of the non-Cusack men from the first film are living their lives. Lou (Rob Corddry) has stolen a bunch of ideas and “invented” them, becoming a billionaire in the process. Nick (Craig Robinson) stole pop songs and became a successful singer. Jacob (Clark Duke) gets to lounge around and do nothing since Lou is his father and the family is incredibly rich. But, at a party, Lou gets shot by an obscured figure, so all three use the titular Hot Tub Time Machine to go back in time and stop the murder. But the hot tub has other ideas, and actually transports them a decade into the future.
They believe that this is because the killer is someone from the future, so effectively this is a movie in which the three leads have to try to find a killer. “Like Terminator,” they say, because referencing much better entertainment is a good idea. They do it a lot. We’ve got Looper, Fringe, Terminator, and Back to the Future mentioned here. There are probably more, too, but the movie is so forgettable that those are the only ones that stuck.
The three leads wind up teaming up with Adam Scott, here playing the son of the John Cusack character from last time, effectively replacing him. All of them get into lots of “funny” shenanigans, like … taking lots of drugs, and making fun of Jacob because he’s kind of nerdy, or a game show in which … well, let’s just say that it’s an awkward situation for two of them. And for us.
Much of the comedy is profane and vulgar and not exactly the nicest thing you’re going to get to see. These characters aren’t particularly good people — even Adam Jr., who starts off the movie as the “good” guy doesn’t stay that way throughout — and the eventual redemption point to their stories feels arbitrary and false. There are a few funny moments scattered throughout, but nowhere near as many as you’d hope for and expect, especially given how much fun the first one was.
Is it less enjoyable because John Cusack isn’t here? I don’t think so. Cusack’s fine and he’s a more suitable “lead” than most of these actors, but he’s not necessary. The problem comes from the repetitive nature of the premise — we’ve done this before — the characters all being unpleasant people with whom to spend our time, and the writing simply being nowhere near as clever as last time. There are also some awkward scene-to-scene transitions along the way, and there just isn’t a lot of fun here. It’s just ugly.
Rob Corddry plays his character perfectly, as he’s supposed to be the obnoxious jerk of the group. Craig Robinson’s character feels superfluous for most of the movie; he’s there, but he doesn’t contribute a whole lot. Adam Scott is here simply because John Cusack wouldn’t return, and Clark Duke gets a few good moments but is almost as insufferable as his on-screen father for a lot of the film. Gillian Jacobs, Collette Wolfe, Chevy Chase, Bianca Haase, Jason Jones, and Kumail Nanjiani all have small role, but none of them leave much impression.
Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is like that person who, well, stays in the hot tub too long. He should have left while the going was good, and maybe only gone back after he’d freshened up. This wasn’t a long enough break. It’s unpleasant, no longer funny, repetitive, and not worth seeing. John Cusack clearly passed on the script, and that was a smart thing for him to do, since Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is going to be remembered only as one of those sequels that isn’t anywhere near as good as the original.