Made with three-quarters of the original’s stars and a lesser fraction of its crude charm, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 takes Hot Tub Time Machine’s delightfully stupid premise (explained in the title) and adds in alternate histories, future technologies (e.g., the DickPad, also self-explanatory), and parallel universes. Like its predecessor, it’s a time-travel fantasy animated by macho anxieties—fixated on castration and hair loss, with a plot that finds our heroes traveling to the gray, emasculated future of 2025, where skirts and capris are the height of men’s fashion, the only mode of transport is driverless compact cars that run on feelings, and the number one show on TV involves straight guys being forced to have virtual reality sex with each other. The difference here—aside from the fact that the jokes aren’t as funny and that John Cusack is nowhere to be found—is the lack of a motivating factor.
Though no one’s idea of deep film, Hot Tub Time Machine at least had an air of wistfulness about it; it was a movie about wasted potential and wanting to live your life over. This, on the other hand, is a movie about topping Hot Tub Time Machine. It begins more or less where the first one left off, in the timeline that resulted when hard-partying Lou (Rob Corddry) decided to stay behind in 1986. Having used his knowledge of the things to come to become rich and famous, Lou is now a debauched rock star tech guru billionaire, fond of lavish parties and Regency tailcoats in Persian pickle patterns. Nick (Craig Robinson) has become a multi-platinum hit-maker by plagiarizing songs from the future—or whatever he remembers of them—while Jacob (Clark Duke) is still a nerd.
Notably absent: Adam, the character played by John Cusack in the original. Enter Adam Jr. (Adam Scott), Adam’s grown-up son in the parallel-universe 2025 to which Nick, Jacob, and Lou travel in order to figure out who shot Lou in the balls at his annual company party. Adam Jr. is what the residents of the first movie’s mid-’80s ski-lodge setting would call a yuppie. Instead of filling Adam’s straight man role in the foursome, he turns out to be another neurotic could-have-been, a drug-crazed party animal waiting to burst out—just like Jacob, Lou, and seemingly every other man in what must now regrettably be called “the Hot Tub Time Machine universe.” Here, women are nymphomaniacs, shrews, or both, and men are ticking time bombs of addiction and self-destruction. It’s a sad worldview, if you stop to think about it; Hot Tub Time Machine did, if only for a split second.
None of this would be a big deal if the movie were funnier. For the most part, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is little more than a collection of shouted pop culture references and improvised insults, structured as a riff on Back To The Future Part II, complete with the preview-style clip-show ending. It never manages to pull together a gag as memorably demented as its predecessor’s incessant foreshadowing about a certain character getting his arm chopped off, and its vision of a neat, neutered near-future isn’t as fun to look at or listen to as the first movie’s colorful wall-to-wall ’80s kitsch and nostalgia-trip soundtrack. And yet it’s watchable, which is the kind of faint praise that usually damns a movie, but in this case is a credit to Robinson’s and Corddry’s performances; the latter is impressively committed to inhabiting a manic, almost irredeemable character motivated only by a need to fill an empty void inside himself.