Before you accuse me of being a snob about dumb comedy, let me be clear that I loved Hot Tub Time Machine. I thought it was just the right kind of dumb, in service of a decent plot: Four men travel to the past to fix the mistakes they’ve made in their lives. Sure, the premise—if you’re not keeping up here, it’s a hot tub that travels through time—is ludicrous, but the film knew it was ludicrous, and it happily sent its charismatic actors out in search of as many laughs as they could find. The humor sprang mostly from the situations and the characters, and the film had a surprising amount of heart to it. (How many Will Ferrell comedies, for example, revolve around a main character’s suicidal tendencies?)
So understand that I’m genuinely disappointed to write this review. Everything that Hot Tub Time Machine got right, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 gets wrong. The problems start with the cast: John Cusack’s character, the everyman of the first film, is nowhere to be found. In his place, Adam Scott plays his character’s son (yes, it’s set in the future this time), and Scott is completely out of his comedic depth here. When he’s supposed to come across as some kind of everyman, Scott seems creepy and weird. When he’s supposed to sell an insane idea, he comes across as unbelievable. He’s lacking any of his Parks and Recreation charm—the nerd who is at home in his own skin—and he fails to replace it with anything meaningful. This leaves the film rootless, and heartless, and in trouble.
The rest of the actors from the original—Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, and Clark Duke—display none of the goggle-eyed enthusiasm they demonstrated in the first Hot Tub Time Machine. They seem to know the material isn’t as good, so there’s a gimme-the-paycheck vibe to their performances. And Corddry's self-impressed buffoonery grows thin just about 10 minutes into the movie. Unfortunately, he's supposed to be the main character.
Embedded as they are between a whole string of tedious exposition dumps, Hot Tub Time Machine 2’s jokes are mostly of the gross-out non-sequitur variety. Characters played by Jason Jones and Gillian Jacobs are introduced for seemingly no good reason. There are a lot of dick jokes, and an unfortunate gay-panic moment in the first film is mirrored and stretched into a way-too-long sequence in which two male characters are forced to have virtual sex, resulting in a few uncomfortable rape jokes. Like lots of time-traveling sequels that jump into the future—Back to the Future 2, Terminator: Salvation—Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is a mess of pandering moments. It’s a movie that has no free will of its own, a dead-eyed robot, staggering from one vague plot point to another in a coldly calculating attempt to entertain.