'Hot Tub Time Machine 2' is a hot, mostly unfunny mess

Friday , February 20, 2015 - 9:56 AM

By Rich Bonaduce
Standard-Examiner correspondent

The original “Hot Tub Time Machine” was almost five years ago, and it had a lot going for it: an unheard of plot device, an absurd premise, an '80s setting and John Cusack. Even so, it struggled to make back double its $36 million budget worldwide, and it barely breached the $50 million mark domestically. It was a mildly amusing bit of escapism entertainment, and most of us were content to leave it at that. But Hollywood is trilogy-happy, and I guess that was good enough to green light this uninspired sequel, since every R-rated raunch-fest wants to be the next “The Hangover.”

“Hot Tub Time Machine 2” has the unenviable task of attempting to explain just how the time-travelling hot tub works, and without a bankable lead. That leaves our three heroes from the first outing Lou (Rob Corddry), Nick (Craig Robinson), and Jacob (Clark Duke) lost in a disjointed and convoluted mess, a series of SNL sketches loosely connected by vulgar and juvenile shock stunts. It almost seems like the movie was written backwards, starting a sequences or two written first, and then the movie was created around them. These sequences may have a point in there somewhere (like the folly of a bleak future reality TV landscape) but there didn’t seem to be enough actual plot to support a whole movie, so much of HTTM2 plays like random almost-jokes sandwiched between an extended SNL sketch or two.

The plot is so nonsensical it’s not worth explaining, except to say that the guys go 10 years into a future void of the sentimental kitsch of the '80s. Much of the sequel is spent undoing the outcome of the original, as the funny but ill-found successes wrought by manipulating the timeline become troublesome for the cast. Writer Josh Heald sprinkles in a heaping helping of referential humor, mainly to other, superior time travel material such as the “Terminator” series and “The Fringe.” This devolves into self-deprecating self-referential humor, as even the cast began to poke fun at the movie in which they find themselves. Director Steve Pink should have known better, since he provided the screenplays for “High Fidelity” and “Grosse Pointe Blank.”

Of course there are some funny lines here and there (which one should expect when a movie is billed as a comedy), and Robinson — who has great comedic timing and delivery — usually supplies them. Corddry and Duke’s shticks wear out quickly, and newcomer Adam Scott is just along for the ride, collecting a paycheck. There are whole swaths of the movie that are painfully unfunny, punctuated by f-bombs and gross-out stunts. When a working joke is stumbled upon it’s repeated ad nauseam. It’s telling when some the funniest parts of your movie are in your trailer, but even more so when some of funniest parts of your trailer are in your credits.

Sadly, like “The Hangover,” “Hot Tub Time Machine 2” is an inferior follow-up, but at least “The Hangover II” made money — lots of it. If another sequel is greenlit — which is unlikely — it’s going to have a hard time breaking “The Hangover” third-installment curse.

REVIEW

  • THE FILM: ‘Hot Tub Time Machine 2’
  • CRITIC RATING: * star
  • PLAYING: Layton Hills 9, Syracuse 6, Megaplex 13, Cinemark Farmington, Layton Tinseltown, Newgate Tinseltown, Megaplex 14, Walker 8, North Ogden 6. 
  • MPAA RATING: R for crude sexual content and language throughout, graphic nudity, drug use and some violence. 93 minutes

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