It seems strange to describe this as “much sillier than the original,” considering that “the original” in this case is a film called “Hot Tub Time Machine,” but I think it's safe to say that they hit the ground running with this film, with very little focus on genuine storytelling, and for the most part, that approach serves them well.
In addition to being very silly, this film is profoundly dirty. Rob Corddry's character Lou is the apex predator of the modern movement of sociopathic comedy. There is a character type, personified in Larry David or the cast of “It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia” or Ruxin on “The League,” that is completely without conscience or humanity, and I'm intrigued by just how far some comedy is willing to push that archetype. It's tricky, because if you do it wrong, you create a character that is unbearable to watch. And even when you do it perfectly, part of the point is that this character is a horrible, horrible person. Most of the things that Lou says in the film are obscene, often hateful as well. It's impressive to see just how dedicated to the character Corddry is.
Steve Pink, who directed the first one, is reteamed here with Josh Heald, who shared screenplay credit on the first one with the team of Sean Anders & John Morris, and I've written before about how hard it is to pull off a good comedy sequel. There's something about comedy that almost always defies the ability to do it twice. My theory is that much of comedy is based on surprise, and the more times you go back to something, the less surprise you'll be able to create. It helps when you have a premise as completely over-the-top ridiculous as “Hot Tub Time Machine,” because you can pretty much do anything. I can't believe it took five years for them to get the sequel in theaters. It feels like something they should have done quickly, not overthinking it.
The best moments in this film are the moments where it feels like they're just throwing jokes at the screen. The moments that are toughest are the ones where they try to create some sort of emotional beat, because the moment we're supposed to invest in these guys at all, the movie crumbles. You can't make your characters amoral assholes who have taken horrible advantage of this discovery they've made and then ask us to care about whether or not their relationships work out. You can't have it both ways, not when you push it as far as this film does.
The film is loosely structured as an attempt to use time travel to solve a particularly explicit assassination attempt on Lou. They spend a majority of the film in the future. They meet Adam Jr. (Adam Scott), the son of the now-absent character played by John Cusack in the first film, but Adam himself stays off-camera here. There are just enough hints dropped that if they wanted to, they could easily bring Cusack back later.
There's a clip from the film that is online now involving a TV game show that Lou and Nick (Craig Robinson) end up on, and regardless of what else I think of this film, I want to spotlight this one scene because it's part of a trend that I'm noticing in films this year, and in comedies in particular. There is a scene in this film built on the comic premise that the worst thing that can happen to someone is gay sex. There are sex jokes of all types in the film, certainly, and I think for the most part, “Hot Tub Time Machine 2” is so ridiculous that it's hard to be offended by any of it. But this isn't 1983, and considering how complex the conversation is about how we represent a huge spectrum of human behavior on film, it seems particularly tone-deaf to me to build your entire set piece around homosexual panic between two straight me who are going to be forced to have sex. It's not funny. It's not witty. It doesn't have anything to say about the tension of a culture that is expanding its definition of “normal.” If you're going to make a joke about this kind of thing these days, you need to come at it from a perspective that is genuinely subversive and smart and that has something to say. Otherwise, this is just a five or six minute sequence about two guys crying in front of a crowd because they are forced to have gay sex. They even make sure to repeatedly emphasize that it's only virtual pretend gay sex, but it's still too much for them to contemplate. We'll come back to this in a few weeks when we talk about another upcoming comedy.
Thankfully, that's just one sequence, and “Hot Tub Time Machine 2” employs a sort of shotgun blast approach to comedy. They throw so many jokes at the audience that it almost doesn't matter that a good half of them fall flat. The hardest I laughed in the entire film was at one throwaway gag during the closing credits, which is not me trying to damn them with faint praise, but rather a way of saying that they keep trying right to the very end of things. Adam Scott makes a nice addition to the ensemble, and I'm down for anything that gives Clark Duke more to do onscreen. Robinson scores some pretty big laughs as well, and Kumail Nanjiani and Jason Jones both impress in key supporting roles. It's a funny cast. There are some very funny runs of jokes. I remember being irritated by the first movie because it felt like it was too hobbled by trying to tell a “real” story, and also slavish about making '80s movie jokes. Here, they seem freer to just let it rip.
It's hard to really cut loose and just do anything you can dream of in an effects-driven SF comedy. I think “Rick & Morty” explores science-fiction ideas in a totally-gonzo comedy format in a way that no live action film can dare, but you can tell that Pink and Heald are at least trying to bring a sense of anarchy and lunacy to what they're doing here. It doesn't always work, but if you're the sort of person who is already inclined to buy a ticket to something called “Hot Tub Time Machine 2,” then I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that you will most likely get your money's worth. But if you're looking for anything more than three garbage people doing terrible things in the future, you may want to sit this one out.
“Hot Tub Time Machine 2” is in theaters on Friday.