“Hot Tub Time Machine 2” Review: This Sequel Doesn’t Hold Water
After their first adventure in the time-traveling jacuzzi, Lou (Rob Corddry) and Nick (Craig Robinson) ensured that their journeys across the space-time continuum were exceedingly personally profitable. It seems only Jacob (Clark Duke) is uncomfortable with the idea of manipulating the course of history for personal gain. However, when tragedy strikes one stormy night, the guys must once again pile into that hot tub time machine and this time venture into the future to set things right.
So immediately, the structure of Hot Tub Time Machine 2 versus that of the first film should bear resemblance to Back to the Future 2. Indeed, the writers of Hot Tub Time Machine 2 make several references to the second installment of the Back to the Future franchise during the course of the film. The problem is that Back to the Future 2 is one of the few examples of a comedy sequel that works, and by continually invoking homage, the audience is reminded of how HTTM2 is yet another in a litany of comedy sequels that should not have been made in the first place.
It’s not as if Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is without its moments. In fact, there are more than a few jokes that managed to elicit a great deal of laughter. The problem is that these moments serve as last gasp efforts to keep an otherwise drowning movie afloat. HTTM2 has a plot, ostensibly, but it’s thinner than the few remaining hairs on Rob Corddry’s head. There is nothing engaging about what little story is here, but every time the film reaches the point of totally collapsing in on itself, the repartee between the leads manages to just pull it back from total oblivion. It’s a double-edged sword because while the dialogue is strong, the movie still spends a majority of its run time teetering on the brink.
Hot Tub Time Machine 2 also suffers tremendously from the absence of John Cusack. It boggles the mind that such would be the case considering direct-to-video schlock has become Cusack’s stock and trade. Still, the guy was the sane, collected center of the first Hot Tub Time Machine that allowed even the most absurd situation or crude interaction between the other principals to function. Switching that central spotlight to Rob Corddry, the single most crass, obnoxious character of the franchise, suddenly the sophomoric humor becomes the film’s only defining characteristic. It’s fair to say Cusack was the heart of that first entry, and without him, the sequel becomes a charmless slog from one juvenile joke to the next.
Adam Scott has proven himself to be a strong comedic talent, but the inconsistencies of his character here make him a poor substitute. Scott plays the future grownup son of Cusack’s character from the first film. He’s a bubbly new age goof who suddenly becomes as hard-edged as his time-traveling companions with only the paltry explanation that he took drugs during his bachelor party. This inconsistency pervades into the rest of the film. For example, the entire future society is warm and fuzzy, with cars that run solely on affection, but then their favorite television shows are these sadistic, voyeuristic nightmares of pain and suffering; shows like “Where Is Daddy Going” and “Building Destruction.” It works as dark humor but feels completely at odds with the Demolition Man-style “enhanced calm” of the rest of the future crafted by the film.
By the end of the movie, it’s clear that Hot Tub Time Machine 2 has no interest in playing by its own rules. With time travel films, there is a profound amount of disbelief that must be immediately suspended. Still, as long as a film maintains its own system of logic, even the wildest, silliest story elements can be effectively utilized. But in HTTM2, the writers can’t even pretend to operate within their own sparse construct. Once things appear to have been wrapped up just before the credits begin to roll, a final twist arises that sacrifices all continuity for a single halfhearted gag.
On top of all of this, there are basic filmmaking gaffes present in Hot Tub Time Machine 2 that are truly mind-boggling. There are editing choices that change the orientation of characters in a conversation in the blink of an eye. It’s incredibly distracting. Equally distracting are the instances of mishandled ADR. Characters whose mouths are just out of frame “speak” lines of dialogue that not only bear no importance to the scene, but also sound nothing like the actor’s voice.
If the filmmakers care so little about the end product, where is our motivation as audience members to get even remotely invested in this movie?
How It Stacks Up
Hot Tub Time Machine 2 vs. Back to the Future 2
As previously mentioned, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 makes multiple references to Back to the Future 2. Much like the second Back to the Future installment, HTTM2 is a time-travel comedy sequel that finds its characters traveling to the future whereas the previous film had them venturing into the past. However, Back to the Future 2 does such a great job establishing its version of the future and crafting an engaging story that the kitsch of the 1950s that was the spirit of its predecessor was no longer a necessity. Halfway through Hot Tub 2, you’ll find yourself longing for the rampant 80s kitsch of the franchise’s first entry.
Advantage: Back to the Future 2
Hot Tub Time Machine 2 vs. 22 Jump Street
Again, comedy sequels are not easy to pull off. More often than not, the sequels become too reliant upon hitting the exact same notes as did the previous film. One solid way to combat this issue is to take a more meta angle and acknowledge these issues within the comedy sequel itself. To its credit, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 does make its share of meta jokes, one of which centers on the fact that they have to “do the exact same thing again” as they are trying to activate the time machine. However, Phil Lord and Chris Miller are the kings of meta humor and their 22 Jump Street so expertly utilizes these self-effacing gags that many have argued 22 Jump Street actually exceeds its predecessor.
Advantage: 22 Jump Street