The onslaught of awful often associated with a comedy’s big “2” provides little incentive for moviegoers to continue participating in its production. Unlike their comic-book counterparts, comedy sequels, three-quels and beyond are typically terrible to watch, embarrassing for actors and only so-so for business. But in an age where franchise is king, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 wriggled its way into theaters five years after the prototype, and delivers an unexpected surprise. Director Steve Pink and screenwriter Josh Heald return with a rollicking sequel that is somehow so much more than just a punctual prediction about a certain Daily Show correspondent.
When again we meet the gang, each has taken occupational and financial advantage of the hot tub portal, with a couple round-trips from past to present earning them money, power and glory. Lou (Rob Corddry), now the founder of Internet kingpin “Lougle” and myriad other wildly lucrative tech enterprises, is a rampant billionaire. He runs his meetings, hosts his parties and drinks his drugs like a modern-day Jordan Belfort, though his zesty lifestyle is still bogged down by substance addiction and suicidal tendencies. Nick (Craig Robinson) enjoys unrivaled success in the music business as a regular banger mill, pumping out chart-toppers and running the Top 40 spectrum with a decade’s worth of unreleased hits stolen from the likes of Lisa Loeb and the Black-Eyed Peas. Jacob (Clark Duke) is the voice of reason and forever flustered, Duke’s Arkansan accent kissing his dialogue with an equal dose of both purity and snark.
Trouble comes during a party at Lou’s mansion in the form of a vengeful gunman, when a fatal, phallic and long-foreshadowed trigger is pulled. To go back, find the culprit and rectify the situation before it happens, the trio must once again summon the titular hot tub—only this time, the all-knowing tub sends them 10 years into the future.
Missing in the sequel is Adam Yates (John Cusack), Lou’s brother and labored hero. Cusack, long a likely actor of unlikely heroes, knew Pink years ago from his work on Grosse Point Blank and High Fidelity, for which Pink wrote both the screenplays. Cusack filled the Hot Tub spotlight as he does most all his movies, acting the lovelorn Eeyore persona saved by a trademark shade of cool. Introducing the idiotic premise—a hot tub that allows for time travel, whose powers are triggered mostly (though not exclusively) by stripping down naked and getting hammered drunk in it, a power known only by Chevy Chase, who is some sort of mystical time shaman/janitor—with a recognizable character and his conventional narrative storyline anchored the film to a more fully fleshed out, if still threadbare plot. Despite what the 2010 release’s box office numbers indicated, it was probably Cusack who helped earn audiences’ trust, as well a gradual cult following. In other words, Cusack made a sequel possible.
Though he declined the invitation for a second dip, Cusack’s absence works to the sequel’s advantage, something Corddry touched on during a radio interview a few months ago When asked why Cusack wouldn’t be returning, Corddry answered, “He’s a very serious actor and I don’t think it was his cup of tea … we got Adam Scott to replace him, and for my money it’s better than the first one.”
He’s right. This time around, the film for the most part chucks plot in favor of chemistry—and it’s the better for it. Absent Cusack, Corddry, Robinson and Duke are ferocious. The three-headed comedy monster that was teased in the first Hot Tub is unleashed in the second, with Scott—who plays Adam Yates Jr., son of the estranged—the independent variable balancing them out without bogging them down. After the showdown at Lou’s party, Nick, Lou and Jacob find themselves 10 years in the future, where we meet Adam Jr. and his fiancé (a totally game Gillian Jacobs) looking straight out of a Jack LaLanne Power Juicer infomercial. Adam sports a cotton grey man-skirt and drinks almond milk, thus replacing Jacob as the butt of the group within seconds.
Scott’s dry wit, effeminate nature and cartoonish deadpan bring comedic life to materially unimaginative scenes—ordering fruit salad at a nightclub with Weight Watcher specificity, gallivanting about on psychedelics the night before his wedding (complete with a call to the fiancé)—in a way Cusack either couldn’t or didn’t care to. At the heart of Hot Tub 2 is sportsmanship. Scott is stoked to be there. They all are, and they look like they’re having the time of their lives. The humor is over-the-top and in the gutter, but the camaraderie is infectious.
It should go without saying that Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is not exactly quality entertainment. No one will leave feeling elevated or educated or motivated. Staple gags seen in the first make a return—the spraying of bodily fluids, Terminator conspiracy theories, fourth-wall breaking—and the raunch is turned up significantly. Lots shocking, nothing new. Yet, these guys are genuinely gleeful to watch. Pink trusts his cast, as well he should. Their banter is seamless, their language organic, their gift of gab as synergic as it is effortless. Seriously: Anyone who can somehow make incessant dick jokes funny deserves a standing ovation.
Director: Steve Pink
Writer: Josh Heald
Starring: Adam Scott, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Clark Duke, Gillian Jacobs
Released: February 20, 2015