As comedy sequels go, you could do a lot worse than Hot Tub Time Machine 2. I've spent a disproportionate amount of time on this site bloviating about why comedy follow-ups are so often so terrible. HTTM2 at least has the decency to tell a new story rather than rehashing the same one and upping the stakes at every turn. It does shine a light on its "supporting" characters -- another common sin I like to complain about -- but only because John Cusack did not return for this go-around.
That's fine because the rest of the core crew is back -- Rob Corddry as self-loathing, self-destructive Lou, Craig Robinson as angsty musician Nick and Clark Duke as reedy-voiced wimp Jacob. At the end of Hot Tub Time Machine, everything was copacetic -- the arc of history bent, particularly by Lou and Nick, in their collective favor, with Lou's company Lougle and band Motley Lou and Nick's string of pilfered future pop hits making them rich.
A few years on, though, wealth and fame have not translated in to happiness. Nick's marriage is again on shaky ground. Jacob is still aimless. Lou, despite all his success, takes too many drugs, remains incredibly selfish and prone to fits of anger. He is barely tolerated by those close to him. At least one person won't tolerate him at all, shooting him in the dick when the lights flicker during his ostentatious birthday party.
All it takes is one dickshot to set the plot in motion. Sans Cusack, Lou, Nick and Jacob jump back in to the hot tub to go back in time and stop Lou's shooter. They end up in the future because, as the mysterious hot tub repairman, reprised by Chevy Chase, tells them cryptically, the machine takes where you need to go rather than where you want to be.
The plot details are really just window dressing designed to introduce Adam Scott’s character, Adam Jr., aka spawn of Cusack, and to break up the juvenile insult comedy that, you know, mostly worked for me a second time around. Unlike many other comedies in this vein, HTTM2 doesn’t ask us to really root for any of its characters, especially now that Cusack’s pursuit of his “great white buffalo” (Lizzy Caplan) isn’t there to give the film a softer side. Lou, Nick and Jacob are bastards. Adam Jr. is so uncomfortably milquetoast that he’s not really worth getting behind either. Director Steve Pink and writer Josh Heald seem to know this and be completely comfortable with it. Bring on the jokes about future drugs and future strippers and murderous self-driving cars.
There is unquestionably something missing from this sequel — the aforementioned Cusack storyline — but it’s hard to see how that could have been easily replicated without Cusack himself. Scott’s character is hilarious, but, again, just too strange to swap in for his on-screen father’s character arc. In this sense, I have to give credit to Pink and Heald for not even bothering to try to replace that vibe with one of the other core characters. (If you want to see what that might have looked like, watch the Brick Tamland parts of Anchorman 2. Better yet, don’t.)
The result is something lesser than the original Hot Tub Time Machine, but still amusing. HTTM2 tests the theory that we could almost watch an entire movie of Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson and Clark Duke staring in to a mirror and unleashing a flurry of insults starting with “you look like …” and the theory, much to my surprise, is mostly proven.