Laughs Scarce In Ice Cold "Hot Tub Time Machine 2"

“Hot Tub Time Machine” did respectable business when it hit theaters in the spring of 2010, but it was brisk DVD and Blu-ray sales that brought the idea of a sequel to life. The original’s high-concept-gone-bawdy hysterics were an ideal fit for late night home viewing, with its loving homages to past time travel classics proving irresistible to genre fans.

Five years later, chapter two of the “Hot Tub Time Machine” saga is here to answer a question no one ever thought to ask: how much could one film miss John Cusack?

So much.

The absence of the reportedly uncooperative “Say Anything” actor isn’t crippling in itself, but it’s symbolic of the film’s innumerable failures. Firstly, the ending of the original “Hot Tub Time Machine” was the perfect sequel to “Hot Tub Time Machine,” propelling its characters into an alternate universe where nothing made any sense. And that was the joke.

Group blowhard Lou (Rob Corddry) had accrued a fortune by aping both an 80s hair metal staple (Motley Crue) and a tech industry giant (Google), Nick (Craig Robinson) had become the hit songwriter (read: plagiarist) he’d always dreamed of, while Adam (Cusack) and Jacob (Clark Duke) had worked through a cavalcade of psychological issues. They’d all made the turn from selfish scumbags to slightly less selfish scumbags, shot off into the batshit insane future they deserved.

By having to continue that storyline, director Steve Pink and screenwriter Josh Heald (both returning) regrettably force viewers to think about the silliness of that ending, and keep thinking about it, retroactively laying it to waste. The sequel opens with a by-the-numbers, last-week-on-“Hot Tub Time Machine” recap and then continues rehashing those same jokes for the next 80 minutes.

Occasionally a new idea creeps in, only to be overshadowed by sloppy technical work or uncomfortably bad acting. From editing to performing and back again, it’s a poorly made film, falling into a cycle of awfulness not dissimilar to that its characters suffer.

Someone has traveled back from the future to the present day to assassinate Lou, providing a half-baked murder mystery that’s even less interesting than it sounds. Throw in an empty romance for Jacob and a paper-thin cover for Cusack’s absence – his son Adam (Adam Scott, NBC’s “Parks And Recreation”) joins the crew in the year 2025 – and an already shoddily constructed film crumbles.

Most tellingly, the film takes Kumail Nanjiani (HBO’s “Silicon Valley”) – one of the funniest stand-up comics on the planet – and renders him completely unfunny in a supporting role that has no reason to exist. Just like the movie at large.

The script’s version of a dumbed-down future isn’t half as amusing as what filmmaker Mike Judge did in “Idiocracy,” nor are its seemingly prerequisite R-rated asides. Boobs, drugs, more boobs, harder drugs, repeat. These detours are almost enough to make us long for a trip back to the pic’s limp “A” story. Almost.

Who would have thought John Cusack’s straight man act would be missed so sorely? In hindsight, he was the first film’s anchor, balancing out the onslaught of absurdity. Here, there’s no one to counteract the always-turned-up-to-eleven Corddry or to play off the half-sweet, half-acidic Robinson. That’s not to mention Clark Duke, whose character only existed in the first film to bring out the group’s longing for their glory days.

“Hot Tub Time Machine 2” is useless to its core, a sure nightmare for newbies and a probable ordeal for fans eager to revisit the characters. It’s rare to see a group of gifted comedians be so damn boring, to watch so much legitimate goodwill be blown to smithereens. But that’s exactly what happens here. Avoid.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Bad)

Release Date: February 20, 2015
Studio: Paramount Pictures, MGM
Director: Steve Pink
Screenwriters: Josh Heald
Starring: Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Clark Duke, Adam Scott, Kumail Nanjiani, Chevy Chase, Collette Wolfe, Gillian Jacobs
MPAA Rating: R (for crude sexual content and language throughout, graphic nudity, drug use and some violence)