‘Hot Tub Time Machine 2’
Director: Steve Pink
Stars: Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson
2 (out of 5) Globes
“Hot Tub Time Machine 2” is a completely different beast than the first, and yet it’s the same kind of lazy. It’s set in the future, not the past, but it’s just as free of elitist ambition. Not that many expect ambition of any kind from a movie about a time machine in the form of a hot tub, and yet the first managed to fly under expectations already set a hair above the ground — while sneaking in a real form of existential despair. What made the ’80s-set “HTTM1” almost salvageable was its characters’ fear that they screwed up life, that the death of their youth wasn’t only an abstract concept but a grim, lovehandle-heavy reality. The undercurrent of melancholy and failure made jokes that weren’t even strong enough to be winkingly weak easier to ignore, if maybe not actually enjoy.
Granted, the only cast member with any significant ties to that decade — John Cusack — is nowhere to be found in its somewhat unexpected sequel. His three actually returning costars (Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson and Clark Duke) joke that his character is “off on an experiential journey”; in truth, Cusack himself tweeted that no one involved even called him. (He was a producer on the first.) The follow-up is an inverse of the first, this one going forward to cost-effective-ish 2024 after Corddry’s douchey Lou — now a Bill Gates-y billionaire, who used the time machine to “invent” things he knew would be invented, like a Google-esque search engine — is shotgunned in the crotch by an unknown assailant.
Why do they wind up in the future instead of the past, where they could thwart his death? That lack of giving a crap is part of the joke. And it’s not an unfunny one. At its best the series milks its inability to care much into absudist jokes — a blob of non-sequiturs where rules are made to be ignored and broken. But it's not often at its best. Still, it can come close. When Lou, Robinson’s Nick and Duke’s Jacob get a look at their futuristic selves, they’ve all aged well beyond 10 years. Other characters don’t age at all, because that would have required makeup. The fact that its 10-years-off future is minimally different — men wear skirts and dogs ride hoverboards, basically — isn’t just a gag; Richard Linklater and Ethan Hawke have talked about being shocked by how much the look of the world had changed over the 12 years they shot “Boyhood,” in part because technology evolved into something you could fit in your hand, or smaller.
Not that the makers of “Hot Tub 2” likely thought about anything like that; they just didn't have the money to make a tricked-out future. Instead, they focus on lots of ad-libbing and gay panic jokes. In fact, there’s an entire, quite long set piece revolving around gay panic, in which it’s posited that the worst thing that could ever happen to a dude is having to pork another dude. It’s not even making fun of this; the joke is watching our heroes cry and freak out over gay sex. Eventually everyone realizes this is technically a time travel movie, and there comes a dizzying (read: cheerfully incoherent) plot about multiple timelines and even dimensions, leading to an end credit sequence that fully exploits the fact that it can go anywhere in history.
Again, that a time travel movie isn’t much of a time travel movie until the end credits start rolling is the joke, as is it paying lip service to actual mind-blowers like “Looper” (but not “Primer”). But it aims low with a premise that, even for a slacker movie, should inspire at least a modicum of creativity. Thing is, it can be inventive, sometimes: In the opening it’s revealed Nick has done what Lou did with technology, only for songs, recording a diverse array of pop hits before their authors could get around to it. (There’s a Lisa Loeb cameo, which would make more sense if she was famous for anything other than “Stay.” But we digress, especially since it affords the filmmakers to lovingly recreate the Ethan Hawke-directed video, but with Craig Robinson.) Adam Scott, playing John Cusack’s character’s son, doesn't have a particularly novel character type: the oblivious dork who talks too much and is prone to go too wild on the eve of his wedding. But Scott finds fresh ways to make him silly and pepped-up, finding a wide-eyed, manic energy that contrasts nicely with the borderline cosmic indifference in most other departments.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge