Stay out of the ‘Hot Tub’: Sequel overflowing with stale ideas

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Stay out of the ‘Hot Tub’: Sequel overflowing with stale ideas

By Matt Maielli / For The Pitt News

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“Hot Tub Time Machine 2”

Directed by: Steve Pink

Starring: Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Clark Duke, Adam Scott

Rated R for crude sexual content and language throughout, graphic nudity, drug use and some violence

Grade: C-

The gang is back for another dip in space-time. But this time, they’re out of the ’80s and hopping from the hot tub to the future. 

“Don’t mess with a winning formula,” Jacob remarks before they dive back into the hot tub. Director Steve Pink should have taken this advice. The structure resembles the first — life and death crisis, dip in the hot tub, recount current events, drop initial plan, party, character has a breakdown and threatens suicide, go back to the plan then end with conflicts answered and resolved. Aside from the structure, everything else is overdone and over the top, similar to the recent “Anchorman” sequel.

Almost titled “Hot Tub Time Machine 3” as a great joke, but later changed to “Hot Tub Time Machine 2” for marketing reasons, this time-hopping bro-fest of a sequel fails to hold up to its cult predecessor. If you were looking for a sequel up to the caliber of “22 Jump Street,” you’ve come to the wrong place.

We catch up with our characters some time after the end of the first film — long enough that they’ve grown accustomed to their time-travel-assisted fame. The story gets rolling when somebody shoots Lou (Rob Corddry) in his pleasure center/plot device and is close to death. Jacob (Clark Duke) suggests to Nick (Craig Robinson) that they hop back in the hot tub and go back in time to stop Lou’s would-be murderer. 

But despite their intention to head back to the past, they actually end up in the year 2025. After an out-of-nowhere scientific crash course from the repairman (Chevy Chase), the gang realizes that Lou’s killer must be from the future. This conflict propels the film (like “The Terminator”), while smaller conflicts give the gang more problems in the future. For example, Nick, a songwriter who rips off hit songs from future artists before they have a chance to record their hits, sees his sin materialized when he meets Lisa Loeb (as herself) the cat-sitter, who never made it big with “Stay (I Missed You)” in the movie’s alternate universe.

The cast itself is something of a comedy B-team. Corddry walks another tightrope as a hardly relatable jerk who you’re supposed to care about. Robinson gives a familiar performance from the first film as the guilt-ridden time-traveler. Duke returns as the nerd who has to explain the film’s alternate timeline plot (like “Fringe”). The notable performance, or should have been anyway, is the replacement of John Cusack with Adam Scott from “Parks and Recreation.” It’s an addition that should have brought the cast to at least a B+ team, but the gang bullies Scott’s character for the bulk of the film instead of letting him fill in Cusack’s leadership role from the first movie. Cusack’s wistful, centering moral presence is sorely missed.

Some of the movie had hints of self-aware obligation, like one particular “Hot Tub Time Machine Too” pun, after which they turn to the camera with a look of “Yeah, we had to do that.”

Mysteries from the first film, mainly the infamous “Cincinnati box,” remain unresolved. The plot leaves questions asked in the film, such as “Where is John Cusack?” unanswered, and instead the film is full of references to other time-travel movies. These pokes start off as playful but quickly turn into a fine beating over the head. The film acknowledges how ridiculous it is with a bit of fourth wall breaking here and a bit of cranking it up to 11 there, but it doesn’t translate to comedy gold. At best, comedy bronze. Most of the future predictions the gang makes are comically spot on, though they don’t make enough of them. The future, according to the film, is filled murderous smart-cars, hover-boarding dogs, a President Neil Patrick Harris and iPads you can have sex with.

While the film borrows from other classic time-travel movies (“Terminator,” “Back to the Future,” “Looper”), it also establishes its own set of rules. Rules that they explore and expand upon from the first film. They also break, bend and ignore these rules, which wouldn’t really matter if the jokes were funnier.

The crew’s regular “You look like” sessions are easily the highlight of the film. It’s simple observational comedy and improvisation at its best. “You look like I wanna hit you into the corner pocket,” says Nick of a futuristic bald Jacob. If this is the high, then the low is certainly the lengthy national TV game show virtual reality rape scene. No typos there — that’s what happens. This isn’t even interpretation. The characters fully recognize that it was rape directly after the scene.

Another pinnacle is the end credits — seriously. The gang takes this time to exploit the alternate timelines to hang out with historical figures, like saving Abraham Lincoln and become other historical figures, such as the Beatles. Why didn’t they just do this for the whole film, like a kind of R-rated “Bill and Ted?”

“Hot Tub” may cause casual viewers to want to go back in time, instead of to the future, to stop themselves from seeing it, and cult-fans might want to at least help them make it better.

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