Imagine if Back to the Future II had Biff Tannen as the hero and you begin to get a sense of the tone and morals of Hot Tub Time Machine 2. With John Cusack unable or unwilling to return for the sequel, director Steve Pink has lost the heart of his ensemble and plays into that, giving up three reprehensible leads who have used time travel for their own advantage and, presumably, to make the world a worse place.
I don’t really remember how Hot Tub Time Machine ended (this is a small problem with the whole film, which comes five long years after the original, which has surely evaporated from the minds of most viewers, leaving recurring jokes and references to the first film to be kinda incomprehensible) but apparently the guys remade history in their own images. Rob Corddry’s Lou has invented the internet and Google (called Lougle) and has become a billionaire party boy. Craig Robinson’s Nick has stolen all of the greatest hits of the last thirty years - or at least what he can remember of them - and recorded them himself, making him a living musical legend. And Clark Duke’s Jacob has just been kind of hanging around, living off Lou’s money. John Cusack’s Adam has left the picture, going off to write scifi novels in isolation.
The plot of this one picks up when Lou, who has alienated most of the world with his awful behavior, gets shot in the dick with a shotgun (it’s very gory, one of the signs that this movie is not trying to make you feel very good) and the three leads try to use the hot tub time machine (Lou has used his billions to get his hands on it) to go back before the shooting, save Lou’s life and apprehend the assassin. But they end up in the year 2025, and it turns out the killer traveled back in time to do the deed.
What follows is a dark, ugly, meanspirited movie that doesn’t quite have the budget to pull off its future, and which has a saggy, pointless middle section that leads to a truly uncomfortable sequence where Adam Scott’s character (he’s playing Adam’s son from the future) gets anally violated in virtual reality. Which is to say that I quite liked the movie.
This is a deeply unpleasant film; where Hot Tub Time Machine played with the idea we’ve all had - how we would do it differently if we could just live our youths again - the sequel has very few thematic interests and absolutely no desire to evoke any shared human experience. Basically it’s a movie that takes these three morally corrupt knuckleheads and throws them into the future to wreak lots of havoc. It should come as no surprise that Lou’s assassin is, in fact, created by Lou’s own nasty, brutish and disgusting actions. Maybe the whole thing is a criticism on the war on terrorism.
Hot Tub Time Machine 2 throws lots of jokes at the audience - lots and lots of jokes. They’re just constantly throwing things out, and many of them don’t work, but you have to really admire the energy required to continuously joke, especially in an age when too many comedies are stingy with zingers. I don’t know that any of the jokes are great, but I laughed a lot while watching the movie, even as I felt kind of icky from the general assault on decency going on onscreen.
How dark does HTTM2 get? The aforementioned Adam Scott anal violation scene is followed up by a discussion about whether or not it was rape; at one point even Clark Duke’s character chimes in that things are getting very, very dark.
When I first walked out of the movie I thought centering the whole thing around Lou was a mistake - he’s despicable. But the more I’ve thought about it the more I’ve realized that this movie is kind of a fuck you, a heavy lean into the idea that we all love these indecent side characters (Stifler’s Law) and that we always want more. Here’s more, says Pink and screenwriter Josh Heald. Lots and lots and lots more. Corddry plays him with Luciferian glee. It’s almost enough to make you like the character. Almost.
The lack of Cusack is palpable, and Adam Scott doesn’t hold the group together well. Not that he’s supposed to - he’s the only nice guy in the movie and indignity after indignity is heaped upon him. Scott’s game, but he’s just playing this stupid, wide-eyed guy whose reason for even being in the film is tenuous at best. Robinson is funny playing Nick as a guy who is wracked with guilt; at one point he’s recording the video for his half-assed version of Stay (I Missed You) and discovers that in this timeline Lisa Loeb is a cat-wrangler on his set. Don’t expect there to be much of an arc for him, though - he’s still as much of a creep as Lou.
Clark Duke is the standout this time; when they go into the future everything is terrible for the other guys, but he’s actually doing very well for himself, having a hot wife and money from the invention of a futuristic masturbation pad. Duke’s really funny, and watching him here I found myself wondering why we don’t see more of him. Clearly we live in an age where there’s a surfeit of chubby white nerdy funny guys, but he’s without a doubt the most acerbic and yet most amiable of the bunch - he can get across a lot of venom in a few words but has a self-deprecating charm that keeps him likable.
A few other familiar faces filter through. Jason Jones is a buddy of the guys who didn’t make that fateful ski trip from the first film, and whose very presence in the film could be cut with absolutely no impact on the plot. I believe his name is Padding McRuntime. Gillian Jacobs is Adam Scott’s fiancee, a thankless role that blossoms in the last act, but I would still have liked more of her. And Kumail Nanjiani is funny as a guy who ends up being incredibly important in Hot Tub Time Machine lore. And now you know there’s lore.
Like I said, HTTM2 throws a lot of jokes at the screen, but the best part of the film is the closing credits, where the guys absolutely abuse the time machine to jaunt through history - a throwaway gag that probably could have served as the entire premise of a movie with a budget (the budget in this film is so low that the most futuristic thing in 2025 are smart cars). This is the least nasty part of the whole movie, by far.
But I like that nastiness. I don’t know how this film got made, but the whole thing has the air of people contractually obligated and taking the opportunity to extend a big middle finger at everybody, especially the audience. It’s rare to see a major studio release a film as unrelentingly unpleasant as Hot Tub Time Machine 2, and I bow to Steve Pink’s commitment to cruelty and unlikable characters.