Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is basically a sillier version of an already silly concept - but that doesn't mean it isn't fun.
In Hot Tub Time Machine 2, we catch a glimpse of the new timeline created by Lou (Rob Corddry), Nick (Craig Robinson) and Jacob (Clark Duke) after their experience traveling back to '80s in the first film. Lou and Nick have used their knowledge of future events to prop themselves up as a tech mogul and legendary recording artist, respectively; however, despite fortune and fame, all is not happy in their world.
Lou and Nick feel their catapult to the top is hollow and empty; their friend Adam (John Cusack) has become estranged; meanwhile, poor Jacob has to live a sad existence knowing that Lou is his father. But when Lou is fatally wounded by unknown assailant, the boys must once again climb into the hot tub time machine to travel forwards in time, to a future where they must somehow unravel the mystery of saving Lou in the past (meaning our present... just try to follow along).
With three out of the four main cast members returning, as well as director Steve Pink and writer Josh Heald still crafting the vision, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 offers the same style of humor as the first, with less relevance, but just as much fun camaraderie and chemistry amongst the cast.
This time around, Steve Pink gets to play with a whole new palette, abandoning the period-skewering aesthetics of the 1980s for a more personalized vision of the future (2025). Like Back to the Future II or Bill and Ted, the future Pink imagines is a close enough approximation to our own, with exaggerated social tropes, fashion and technology that creates some funny commentary.
The sequel also thankfully avoids the dreaded "Hangover II syndrome" by offering fans enough of a tweak on the formula to keep things fresh and interesting, while also openly acknowledging the hokeyness of its own recycled ideas (a la 22 Jump Street). The result is much more elaborate VFX work and mis-en-scene composition from Pink, as well as a more imaginative story from Heald, who manages to organically evolve his characters and mythos - though not without drawbacks.
While Hot Tub Time Machine had a more "nuanced" story about the road from youth to adulthood, and the paths we wish we could walk differently, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 has a much flimsier premise (Lou still being a douche - he and Nick learning the value of truly earning things in life). It's clear that this sequel is more interested in breaking with the limitations of the first film and going crotch-deep into the raunchy comedy end of the pool, rather than mining deeper or sensible meaning from a continued journey with the characters.
Most of the sequel consists of episodic stops along the "investigation" of who killed Lou, and a lot of those stops feel arbitrary in the sense that they feel like indulgences in a smattering of joke concepts, rather than an organized means by which to grow the story and characters in a logical, organic, and meaningfully humorous way. All in all, the sequel is far less relevant (or resonant) in its comedic insights, instead employing outrageous or absurd concepts as example of its achievements.
That comedy comes from one-part written material and one-part improvised material from the cast, and more so than the first film, it is definitely a hit-or-miss affair. To its credit, even Hot Tub Time Machine 2's misses will likely inspire a smile (even if it comes with an eye-roll), but the amount of gut-busting moments can probably be counted on one hand. (NOTE: If you're not a fan of some extreme raunch-com, there's probably very little for you to enjoy in this movie. It gets pretty gross, and makes no apologies for it.)
Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson and Clark Duke are snappier and wittier than ever as a trio - and truthfully are probably better off for not having John Cusack back in the fold. The experienced comedic actors riff off one another seamlessly, creating (or maintaining) some of the film's best running gags, like the "Know what you look like?" one-liners, or that catchy rendition of "You're a Nerd", which could conceivably pierce the zeitgeist and become a thing.
As for character evolution: Corddry nearly pushes things to the limit with his even more extreme version of Lou. The character is definitely harder sympathize with in the sequel, as most of his actions (and a lot of his words, funny or not) are grating or off-putting. Craig Robinson gets about the same amount of material to work with: a somewhat muted dramatic subplot, stuffed under his obligation to support the main storyline. He's once again on hand with witty quips and a fatherly presence as the comedic straight man, who helps to ground Lou's over-the-top zaniness and/or Jacob's ultra-dry sardonic wit. Clark Duke, meanwhile, gets a somewhat heavier subplot that offers some nice dimension to Jacob's character; however, like Robinson, his main function is clearly propping up the Lou storyline and character.
On the supporting character front: Parks and Rec star Adam Scott steps in and improves on the John Cusack role in just about every way, playing Cusack's future son, Adam Jr. Doing a more extreme riff on his Parks and Rec lovable geek, Adam Jr. proves to be a perfect springboard for a lot of jokes about the ridiculous world and customs of the future. Backing Scott up is Community star Gillian Jacobs, who is just as effective creating a hilariously sheltered and nerdy future woman in Jill, Adam Jr.'s fiancee.
Other than that, the sequel keeps with the tradition of the first film by filling bit parts with hot young actresses (Bianca Haase); up and coming comedic talent (Kumail Nanjiani); and some celebrity cameos both old and new. As the trio themselves observe at one point in the film: why change a winning formula?
In the end, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is basically a sillier version of an already silly concept - but that doesn't mean it isn't fun. It may lack substance or deeper insights than the first, but for comedy fans who are just looking for some Rated R laughs - or to catch up with characters they enjoyed from the first film - the sequel will deliver.
Hot Tube Time Machine 2 is now playing in theaters everywhere. It is 93 minutes long and is Rated R for crude sexual content and language throughout, graphic nudity, drug use and some violence.