I usually have a home for movie reviews, but this one is an exception. There was a mix-up over at the usual place, Drunk Monkeys, and I didn’t want to abandon this write-up. It was too much fun to write.
When I first saw Hot Tub Time Machine back in 2010, I was pleasantly surprised. It was an entertaining buddy movie that yearned for something more, that came packaged with a soul and an ethos, and with its powerful heart, it took great strides to comfort us and lead us on a journey toward self-discovery and catharsis. Hot Tub Time Machine was as much an exercise in great dark comedy as it was a purge of all that was wrong in our lives, and it came loaded with characters that were funny yet so very human. It had all the markings of a truly great movie, and one could tell it was a labor of love, carefully crafted by an adept team.
Hot Tub Time Machine 2, on the other hand, casts itself far astray from its predecessor. In this sequel, we find our regular cast of characters (Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, and Clark Duke – John Cusack is absent this time around) living the good future they’ve carved out for themselves in their last outing. But they’re unhappy. Ego and wealth has seized hold of them, and in Corddry’s case, has turned him into a frustratingly awful monster that no one, not even his wife or son, can stand. It’s during the middle of a party where Fate propels them on another adventure, as a cloaked assassin shoots Corddry in the family jewels. The team rallies together and plunges through the pool of time to find this assassin and halt a “friend’s” murder.
Along the way, our protagonists meet up with Adam Scott, cast as a replacement to and a bastard child of John Cusack’s character. And it’s through Scott that Robinson, Duke, and Corddry discover they weren’t just propelled into the future, they were cast onto an alternate timeline, a recurring joke intended to spoof several popular movie franchises as of late, most notably The Terminator franchise. After a convoluted exposition and an overdone foundation for time travel, hilarity ensues.
So the audience waits. And waits. And waits. The sounds of candy wrappers and teeth mashing popcorn echo off the walls of the theater. A few people cough. Someone blows snot into tissue paper. A cell phone warbles the classic Power Rangers theme through a pair of jeans. But no one laughs. The audience is so stoic, I find myself wondering if I accidentally stumbled into a screening of American Sniper. Nope. Rob Corddry is onscreen vomiting penis jokes at a mile a minute. And no one is laughing.
It’s like this for most of the movie. Every twenty minutes I might hear a slight chuckle, but this theater is mostly a mausoleum. Saint Peter is before us, showing us the last endeavors of director Steve Pink and writer Josh Heald before their careers died. It’s a lesson for us, a morality play on cashing in with an undeserving sequel.
“Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is lazy,” Saint Peter tells us. “It’s a bucket of unused jokes thrown at the screen in disarray, hoping — nay, praying — something sticks. It’s a good thing John Cusack knew well enough to stay away, but the devils who made this had to go ahead and drag Adam Scott into this disaster.”
There’s a scene midway through Hot Tub Time Machine 2 where Scott trips on psychotropic drugs. He puts this thing called an “electric ladybug” on his neck, which is little more than a bug-shaped microchip. Scott trips for hours and hours, and it’s an excuse for the creative time to play with different lenses and editing tools. As I’m watching Scott make a goof of himself for the camera, his head twisting and turning into odd shapes while he makes faces, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. Here he is, having the time of his life, and we’re staring at him like a bunch of old people on a bench with nothing better to do — arms folded and hell bent on people-watching.
What’s even sadder is Scott’s whole motivation, as a character, is to find his dad. The movie teases us with John Cusack references frequently, whether it’s the group of friends finding Cusack’s trench coat or his boxed memories of “Cincinnati” (a point of furious indignation in the first film) or Scott, holding up Cusack’s photo, bemoaning the ills of being a fatherless son. And whether or not this teasing was meant to be a joke, there’s no delivery, and there’s no punch line. Hot Tub Time Machine 2 dangles the carrot of a missing character, arguably the one who brings the cathartic element to the previous film, above our heads for an hour and a half and offers nothing for solace. Much like the rest of the movie, there’s no sense of closure, no real turning points or soulful characters on a quest to better themselves.
Hot Tub Time Machine 2 isn’t another darkly comedic exploration of the human condition. It’s just junk food, and even as junk food, it doesn’t taste very good. The jokes are half-assed and the script is unpolished. It’s a last minute effort to capitalize on a movie that built quite a sizable fan base.