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At The Picture Show
February 2015

Hot Tub Time Machine 2

Down the drain

'Hot Tub Time Machine 2' is a five-minute idea drawn out to a completely unsustainable length

Hot Tub Time Machine 2
Paramount Pictures
Director: Steve Pink
Screenplay: Josh Heald
Starring: Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Clark Duke, Adam Scott, Gillian Jacobs, Kumail Nanjiani, Collette Wolfe and Jason Jones
Rated R / 1 hour, 33 minutes
February 20, 2015
(out of four)

The misguidedness of Hot Tub Time Machine 2 can be summed up in two epilogues - its own, and that of its 2010 predecessor. We'll go ahead and address them chronologically.

At the end of the first film, a closing sequence reveals that former loser and suicidally depressed manchild Lou Dorchen (Rob Corddry) - having gone back in time and used his knowledge of the future to his advantage - went on to create "Lougle" (like Google, get it?) and, prior to that, had a string of hit records as the frontman for Mötley Lüe (like Mötley Crüe, get it?). And thus he went from loser to celebrity mogul, almost literally overnight.

Whatever you thought of the movie (and I was personally not a fan), the ending really only functions as something of a humorous, punctuative postscript to a self-contained story. Which is to say, it does not necessarily work as a jumping-off point to a whole new story. I'm not sure if there was originally any expectation of a franchise opportunity, but the first film did the sequel the disservice of writing it completely into a corner.

It's that miscalculation whose repercussions are felt throughout this sequel, which is forced to carry on a single-serving joke for the duration of an entire movie. In the tradition of picking up where things left off, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 inherits the reality in which Lou is one of the world's most successful people - the rare combination of rock star and pioneering tech giant. He remains a boorish imbecile, but has enough money to get away with it. He keeps up a lavish, self-worshiping lifestyle, he surrounds himself with sycophantic yes men, he has bad fake hair, he slaps his name on everything he owns and everyone generally despises him but tolerates him anyway. He's basically a classier, more self-aware version of Donald Trump.

Nick (Craig Robinson), meanwhile, has gone down a similar road - or at least half a similar road, stealing iconic pop songs and turning them into hits of his own years ahead of time, turning himself into a Grammy machine in the process.

Jacob (Clark Duke), having discovered - much to his dismay - that Lou is his father, lives in the family mansion doing nothing (there's a running joke about him being the unofficial butler) and resenting every minute of it. And finally, there's Adam (John Cusack), who does not appear in this film because his character is off on a book tour or something, and definitely not because Cusack, as far as I can tell, has made a point never to make a sequel.

Anyhow, that's the film's starting point - a familiar present-day in which our four pals (but mostly Lou) have co-opted others' 21st Century success and struck it rich. Taking the previous movie's coda and expanding on it is a bit like trying to adapt a five-minute sketch to feature-length. I suppose, if I'm being kind, it could have been something of an intriguing cinematic dare. But it comes across instead as someone stretching a joke out way, way too far.

The event that forces the gang to go back into the titular hot tub (which this time sends them a decade into the future) is an assassination attempt on Lou - a seemingly successful one; hard to survive a shotgun blast to the junk - during one of the many parties he throws for himself. The three rush to the hot tub and travel to a future in which Jacob, not Lou, is a billionaire tycoon, Nick is a pop-culture has-been, and Lou is a vagrant who lost all of his money. (Why is he still alive despite being killed ten years earlier? Well, the movie tries to explain it - and its approach to time-travel - using some Terminator/Looper logic that it only half-understands. Ultimately it doesn't really matter.)

The plan? Try to find out who killed - or attempted to kill - Lou, then go back in time and prevent it from happening. Along the way they have to recruit Adam's son, Adam Jr. (Adam Scott), a mild-mannered dork who's about to get married to his sweetheart Jill (Gillian Jacobs) and who doesn't - at least not yet - really fit in with the rest of the group's hard-partying lifestyle.

Transplanting the characters to 2025 does allow the filmmakers to go more elaborate and silly with the sci-fi, and there are a few nice futuristic touches here and there (i.e. self-driving cars that are borderline sentient). But most of the film relies on desperate attempts to wring humor out of the characters' debauchery, and an even more desperate (not to mention unsettling) reliance on homophobic jokes and references that actually turn into entire subplots. And after all that, the film still tries to turn things toward phony sentiment, with everyone (pointlessly) learning the right lesson in the end. Sigh. For a movie whose selling point is the characters' virtually sociopathic behavior, the idea that they're all really warm-hearted souls who want to do the right thing can't help but come across as an insincere gesture on the filmmakers' part.

I mentioned two epilogues, and indeed HTTM 2 has one that just about encapsulates the film's shortcomings, and presumably closes the book on the franchise as a whole. This doesn't spoil anything about the plot itself - that's all been resolved by this point - but if you want to jump off right here, be my guest.

The credit sequence shows the gang repeatedly going through the time machine to various points in the past, re-writing the history books primarily by inserting themselves. It's about a five-minute montage of them disappearing and reappearing with new stories about where they've been, what they've changed and who they've slept with. Now: I have no idea if this is the case, or when this movie was fully in the can. But this sequence plays like a direct response to the brilliant closing credit sequence of 22 Jump Street. Sometimes comedy can be a game of one-upmanship, and that's certainly how it comes across here.

Problem is, the Hot Tub montage just isn't all that funny. (I mean, it's probably funnier than the rest of the movie, but that's not difficult.) They save Lincoln from being assassinated, they walk on the moon, they become the Beatles. (I don't recall whether or not they spend any time in Germany in the 1930s, but if not, then clearly they've forgotten the widely accepted No. 1 rule of time travel.) But for the most part the jokes are just randomly assembled cultural references, absent the kind of creative approach that could turn those references into something clever or unexpected.

And that's the difference between Jump Street's Phil Lord and Chris Miller and Hot Tub's Steve Pink and Josh Heald. Whereas the former two take ostensibly dumb ideas and turn them upside down and inside out, the latter pair have fundamentally similar ambitions but none of the same prodigious imagination. They may have been able to kinda get away with that once, with the original Hot Tub Time Machine having gotten by almost entirely on its out-there concept and the talent of its cast (even though the material itself wasn't very good). But this one has all the characteristics of a bad sequel - repeated callbacks to the previous film's jokes, conspicuously missing cast members and an overall sense that everyone is begrudgingly going through the motions. The film may not have a DeLorean as its time-travel method, but that doesn't keep it from spinning its wheels.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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