Return of the time-travelling douchebags

Hot Tub Time Machine 2 features most of the same shitty, gross, out-of-shape idiots, but one twist makes this movie better than its predecessor.

Adam Scott, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson and Clark Duke
In the post-Hangover world, Hollywood came upon a very particular problem. Audiences were famished for more dick jokes from a crew of not-super-famous men bound together by bizarre circumstances, and studios wanted to give it to them – but The Hangover was a surprise hit, and the studios hadn’t prepared a carefully calibrated array of knockoffs to feed that lust. That seems to be mostly what accounts for the surprise success of a dopey comedy starring John Cusack (who has kept the majority of his recent output to cheap VOD movies where he skulks around Romania with a gun) with a title as dopey as Hot Tub Time Machine. It’s not that surprising that the film has a sequel, then, but it’s a little worrisome: what avenues of hot tub time travel could be left to explore? The future, of course. Everyone always forgets about the future.

Craig Robinson
Robinson and friends

Having used their knowledge of the future to give their ’80s selves a helping hand at growing past their terminal loserdom, Lou (Rob Corddry), Nick (Craig Robinson) and Jacob (Clark Duke) are living large in 2015. Nick has become a very successful musician and producer by writing literally every pop song of the last 30 years (or at least what he remembers of them); Lou has invented Lougle and pulled nearly every technological advance out of his ass, and his son Jacob has a fulfilling career as his father’s butler (Cusack’s character, Adam, is said to be “on a spiritual journey”). Even as a multimillionaire, Lou remains a complete dickhead, however; during Lougle’s 16th anniversary party, an unknown assailant shoots Lou square in the junk. Attempting to preserve Lou’s manhood, his friends drag him into the titular hot tub time machine in order to prevent the murder (and tragic loss of his dong) from happening.

The machine takes the crew 10 years into the future instead, in a world where Jacob is now the billionaire tycoon at the head of Lougle, Nick is a washed-up nobody best known for a dopey dance craze and Lou is an alcoholic fuck-up. The future setting turns out to be Hot Tub Time Machine 2’s ace in the hole. Where the original (which I have to admit I don’t hold in particularly high regard, even as an apologist of dumb comedies about farts and dicks) floundered with tired ’80s references and gags, the future setting gives director Steve Pink and writer Josh Heald free rein to throw all kinds of crazy shit at the screen and see what sticks. The trio picks up a fourth member in the form of Adam’s dorky, perpetually chipper son Adam Jr. (Adam Scott) and stumble through a world where the most popular show is a virtual-reality game show hosted by Christian Slater, self-driving cars that run on feelings can develop bloodlust against the impolite and the most powerful psychedelic drug is a ladybug you stick in your neck.

Hot-Tub-Time-Machine-2Not a lot has changed otherwise — it’s still crass and silly, the female roles are still underwritten to the point of being vaguely insulting (after Black & White, it’s the second movie this month to waste the great Gillian Jacobs in a nothing part), there’s the requisite party-in-slow-motion-to-old-school-hip-hop montage and the writing still leans too hard on mothballed gay panic jokes (two dudes find themselves in a situation where they have to have sex — hilarious!). One of the original film’s few strengths, however, was its mild contempt for its characters; their rage issues, latent homophobia, rampant drug use and general disregard for others isn’t meant to be cool and worthy of envy. They’re shitty, gross, out-of-shape idiots that don’t really deserve to have fallen ass-backwards into success, and the film essentially makes them the butt of the joke time and time again. Hot Tub Time Machine 2 can be crass, but it’s never really mean-spirited unless an asshole is being mean to another asshole.

Self-awareness of a sequel’s uselessness has become passé — it has become obligatory for films to comment on their own predictability, which this film does in spades. And this is a better film than its predecessor. It’s wilder, more exciting, more original and it has Adam Scott at both extremes of the Adam Scott-type character as opposed to a slightly waxy, panicked John Cusack. As far as raunchy post-Hangover films go, it’s among the best, but it’s a tired genre where innovation and originality gives way to cheap laughs and where the idea of two men having sex is given altogether too much comedic credit. Hot Tub Time Machine 2 lives up to (and sometimes surpasses) the admittedly unpromising concept of an entire movie about a hot tub that doubles as a time machine. That’s practically enough in itself. ■
Hot Tub Time Machine 2 opens in theatres today, Friday, Feb. 20. Watch the trailer here: