As with the film that came before it, “Hot Tub Time Machine 2” tells you right there in the title that the actual physics and mechanics of time travel are going to be handled with as little sincerity, formality or attention to science as possible. But there’s another time problem here: namely, the minutes that drag between one laugh and the next.
That dragging journey from minute to minute grows so oppressive that it sinks the entire experience. Anyone who makes a movie about a hot tub that’s also a time machine clearly thinks he’s making something smart enough to play off of such a stupid premise, but returning director Steve Pink and screenwriter Josh Heald get only the stupid part right. Rather than allow this loony notion to be a launching pad for witty, subversive comedy, this is dreary, knuckle-dragging stuff that wastes the talents of its capable cast.
The sluggish proceedings begin in the present — or, rather, the present as it’s been altered by the previous movie. Lou (Rob Corddry) has used his knowledge of post-1986 events to make a mega-fortune, first as the lead singer of hair-metal combo Motley Lou (never mind that Mötley Crüe was founded in 1981, but sshh, time travel, hot tub, forget about it) and then as the Internet entrepreneur behind popular search engine Lougle.
Success hasn’t changed him, however: Lou remains an obnoxious, substance-abusing scumbag and a terrible father to his put-upon son Jacob (Clark Duke). Their pal Nick (Craig Robinson), meanwhile, has built a successful pop career out of his half-remembered versions of songs that haven’t yet been recorded. (After butchering “Stay,” Nick turns around and sees that one of the menial crew members on the set of his video is frustrated and not-famous songwriter Lisa Loeb.)
Something terrible happens to Lou at a big bash at his mansion, and he, Nick and Jacob must hop back into the titular conveyance to undo the damage. To their surprise, they’re taken not to the past but rather to 2025, where they hope to get help from their friend Adam. (John Cusack didn’t return, which seems surprising to say the least; he could find time for “Reclaim” and “Drive Hard,” but not “Hot Tub Time Machine 2”?) Instead, they find uptight dullard Adam Jr. (Adam Scott), who amiably accompanies these nitwits on their quest to fix the past.
The film has a bit of fun with notions of what the future will be like, with smart cars that are actually smart (one of them develops a fully-earned loathing for Lou and gets some of the script’s best lines), reality TV taken to extremes, and shockingly powerful hallucinogenics. (Adam Jr. goes on a cosmic trip that wouldn’t be out of place in “The SpongeBob Movie” which, come to think of it, is a funnier and more clever time-travel film than this one.)
One of the big letdowns of “HTTM2” is that it wants to have its raucous excess (the time machine only works if you get blackout drunk) before awkwardly making a 180 and delivering sermons about sobriety and rehab which, while noble, feel utterly tacked-on and contrived, as though someone high up in the creative team got slapped with community service late in the production process.
Also sucking the fun out of the proceedings is the fact that the Lou character is so utterly despicable; there’s a fine line between comically self-involved and grotesquely sociopathic, and despite Corddry’s game attempts, he’s just too repellent to be amusing. Duke, Scott and Robinson are all fine, but since they’re never taken too far out of their comfort zone, their performances are solid but familiar. (Gillian Jacobs is utterly wasted in the thankless role of Adam Jr.’s peppy fiancée.)
If the undemanding silliness of the first “Hot Tub Time Machine” was your cup of comedy, then you may well enjoy another plunge in these waters. Apart from a few laughs, however, I found the experience tepid and soggy.