There was some charm beneath the absurdity of 2010's "Hot Tub Time Machine." The film overcame its ridiculous premise and some of its humor's ugliness by mining 80's nostalgia with a throwback to the raunchy comedies of that era. The loose plot followed a group of friends who used the titular device to go back to the precise moment when their lives spun off course, traveling through space and time in order to get back on track. That movie was a moderately-sized hit, so here come "Hot Tub Time Machine 2." I'm not sure that the first film left too many unanswered questions, nor were people really clamoring for another installment, yet here we are.
Picking up a few years after the events of the first film, a quick montage catches us up on where each of our main characters are now. Naturally, they pretty much all used the time machine to achieve fame and fortune: Lou (Rob Corddry) has leveraged his Internet company, "Lougle," into a billion-dollar empire, while Nick (Craig Robinson, exuding laidback charm) has become a successful singer by recording versions of popular songs (what he can remember of the lyrics at least) before the real artists can have the chance. Meanwhile, Lou's son, Jacob (Clark Duke) lives in his father's mansion as a glorified butler. Missing in action is John Cusack's character, Adam, who provided the emotional core of the first film, but doesn't return this time around. In a throwaway moment, we learn that he became a science fiction author after gaining a following with a novel revolving around a very familiar, spa-like time traveling device.
Despite the friends' immense success, there's a hollowness at the center of their existences. Nick even suggests that they kickstart the 'ole tub again and "tweak some things." But before they can even consider it, an assassination attempt against Lou is carried out (while delivering a speech Lou is shot in the dick by an unseen perpetrator). Panicking, Nick and Jacob fire up the tub and toss Lou's body in, only to find they've jumped forward to the year 2025; as they're reminded by the tub's mysterious mechanic (Chevy Chase), the tub "doesn't take you where you want to go, but when you need to." With the time traveling having miraculously revived Lou, the three must find the assassin and set things right again.
Writer Josh Heald's script spends the early going setting up a list of potential suspects, including an old friend (Jason Jones) who was supposed to join in on the ski resort trip from the first film, but was left behind; and Brad, a disgruntled Lougle employee. The group is soon joined by a new member, Adam's naïve future son, Adam Jr. (Adam Scott, playing a variation on his "Parks and Recreation" character).
There's a definite darkness at the heart of these films -- after all, the original's plot arises out of the men's response to Lou's suicide attempt. This film adds in issues of drug abuse and Jacob's inherited predilection toward self-destruction. It's an interesting place to mine for comedy, but director Steve Pink (a long way from the days when he wrote "High Fidelity" and "Grosse Pointe Blank") is instead content with an unimaginatively bland portrait of the future, mixed with lazy frat boy humor: vaguely misogynistic treatment of women, lots and lots of vomit, and you won't find another film more obsessed with the terrible things that can be done to man's crotch. There's also plenty of gay-panic humor, which reaches its nadir during an interminable sequence where the pals end up on a futuristic game show called "Choozy Doozy" and leads to them being forced to have sex in front of a national audience.
But none of that would really be a problem if the film were funnier. There's material here that's worthy of a chuckle or two, but mostly the film limps along, content to sit back while its actors adlib variations of the same jokes over and over, occasionally making winking reference to the first film. The talented cast -- including Gillian Jacobs, who's given little to work with in the role of Adam Jr.'s fiancée -- is utterly wasted. Corddry's character actually garnered some sympathy in the first movie, but here he's completely loathsome, seemingly having blossomed into a full-on sociopath. It's typical of a film that seems to have no affection for any of its characters; in fact it seems to actively hate them. And as a result, I did too.