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Hot Tub Time Machine 2
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by Brett Gallman

"Louper."
3 stars

Confession: I’ve seen “Hot Tub Time Machine” an absurd number of times during the past five years. Let's just say I've watched it more than I've watched anything else released during that time span. This is an important caveat to keep in mind when I say its follow-up is pretty funny in spite of itself.

Or maybe it’s funny because it is so spiteful. Without John Cusack around to reprise the role of Adam, the group’s anchor and heart, it’s like director Steve Pink and company decided “fuck it—let’s just go with our worst possible impulses and see where it takes us.” Naturally, the approach carries them to a half-baked riff on “Back to the Future 2,” only it’s far from a parable about the dangers of profiteering from time-travel.

In fact, it’s exactly the opposite: picking up where the original left off, it finds our group living comfortably off of their previous exploits. Lou Dorchen (Rob Corddry) has established a multimedia empire thanks to his invention of Lougle, though it’s seen better days (both Geocities and Angelfire have left them in the dust). Once a struggling musician, Nick Webber (Craig Robinson) has successfully ripped off the greatest hits of the past thirty years, right down to aping Lisa Loeb’s signature glasses for his version of the “Stay” video. Meanwhile, Jacob (Clark Duke) spends most of his time playing video games and acting as his dad’s butler at the Lou Pavilion in New Orleans. Despite their success, each is sort of restless, and Lou is especially so generally awful that someone shoots him during his annual birthday celebration.

Sensing a chance to save his life, Nick and Jacob carry his profusely bleeding body and toss him into the hot tub time machine in order to go back in time to prevent his would-be murder from ever happening. The problem is that they end up ten years in the future, where everyone but Jacob (who has inherited Lou’s riches) is miserable. Ostensibly, it’s an opportunity to course correct their lives, but the guys mostly see it as a chance to raise hell and ruin everything they come into contact with, including Adam’s grown-up son (Adam Scott).

What follows is a gleefully anarchic series of events, many of which echo the beats and jokes from the previous film, right down to the recurring gag of someone almost getting maimed (in this case, Lou is stalked by a preternaturally smart car that holds a grudge against him). Some of the gags are decidedly meaner than their antecedents: for example, this time, Lou and Nick find themselves in a compromising sexual position for an audience of the future’s highest-rated game show (presided over by one of a few decent cameos the film offers), a virtual-reality monstrosity that has the audience subject contestants to their wildest whims. It’s one of the few times the film seems to have anything on its mind besides total perversion since it savages our cultural landscape and offers a horrifying glimpse into what it might escalate to.

But there’s plenty of perversion in this and other scenes, so much so that even the characters have to acknowledge how dark the proceedings have become. For a film titled “Hot Tub Time Machine 2,” this one sure burrows down into some bleak holes, no doubt because its main characters are unrepentant assholes. It’s the sort of film that draws Scott’s completely wide-eyed, innocent character into a maelstrom of drugs, booze, and sex on the eve of his wedding night and somehow makes him the villain despite all the indignities he endures. If anyone deserves to take a shotgun to the dick, it’s Lou, a walking disaster who wrecks everyone’s shit and is astounded that everyone hates him.

More astounding is that everyone also kind of loves him (including the audience, though I grant that your mileage may vary there). Corddry is impossibly charismatic in this role, even when he’s forced to become the lead thanks to Cusack’s absence. You wonder if maybe this is too much Lou since he’s running wild with little to no counterweights this time, but the film embraces the chance to go unhinged and push this character to the brink just to see if he’s still redeemable. Essentially, “Hot Tub Time Machine 2” is the story of a time-travelling dick looking to literally save his own dick.

But he’s our dick, and so are Nick and Jacob. The returning trio still has fantastic chemistry, particularly Corddry and Robinson, who riff their way through the film with a loose improvisational style. Duke isn’t to be outdone, though; for whatever reason, he’s yet to truly break out, but his “Hot Tub” stints have revealed a sharp wit and a willingness to dig beneath his snarky nerd exterior to find a little bit of humanity in a character who’s graduated from the group’s punching bag to following in his old man’s self-destructive footsteps. It could be said that this is his movie if “Hot Tub Time Machine 2” had any focus whatsoever.

Instead, it’s the type of comedy that keeps flinging jokes at the proverbial wall in the hopes that something sticks. A lot of it doesn’t land since this sequel is shaggier in every way: its narrative barely acknowledges each character’s own subplot (something the original was sneakily masterful about), and its laughs never reach the sustained highs as the first film's. Thanks to its abundance of gags, it’s more than occasionally funny, though it does seem to run out of steam rather quickly once it hits 2025. Speaking of shaggy: even Pink’s visuals are flatter, as the film’s relatively threadbare budget doesn’t do much justice to the next decade, a constraint that’s slyly winked at when the guys stand in the middle of a barely-dressed New Orleans street and note that not much has changed.

Outside of its main trio, “Hot Tub Time Machine 2” does little favors for anyone else. Gillian Jacobs is criminally wasted as Scott’s fiancée, while Kumail Nanjiani isn’t asked to even be all that funny. A subplot involving one of Lou and Nick’s loser buddies goes nowhere in particular, and even poor Chevy Chase is limited to less than a minute of screen-time. Even comparing Scott to the departed Cusack is a folly since he’s a fourth wheel in every respect—he’s a plot device, not a character, and the film almost regards him with contempt until he earns his place with the group.

And therein lies the key with “Hot Tub Time Machine,” really—from its title to its premise to its characters, it practically dares you to dismiss it before totally winning you over. This sequel takes it a step further by almost inviting pure disdain and seems barely concerned with earning admiration this time. It’s maybe the ultimate cult movie sequel: given that the first film didn’t really gain traction until hit video, this is a follow-up that probably should not exist, so Pink treats it like he’s playing with house money. Anyone showing up for this one is likely already on board, so why not see how willing they are to completely give themselves over to its manic energy?

Those who embrace it will at least meet with a few inspired sequences, including an end credits gag that rivals that of “22 Jump Street.” Like that film, “Hot Tub Time Machine 2” practically obliterates any need for further sequels by exhausting every possibility in the span of a few minutes.

That's just as well: it's a miracle that something called "Hot Tub Time Machine" ever yielded even one cult classic. Expecting more is like hoping to recapture the great white buffalo.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=26213&reviewer=429
originally posted: 02/21/15 18:37:41
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USA
  20-Feb-2015 (R)
  DVD: 19-May-2015

UK
  10-Apr-2015 (15)

Australia
  09-Apr-2015 (MA)
  DVD: 19-May-2015


Directed by
  Steve Pink

Written by
  Josh Heald

Cast
  Rob Corddry
  Craig Robinson
  Clark Duke
  Adam Scott
  Gillian Jacobs
  Chevy Chase



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