‘Hot Tub Time Machine 2’ a disappointing comedy sequel

By Eli Fine

(Paramount Pictures)
(Paramount Pictures)

Adam Scott is one of the best comedic actors working today. His character on “Parks and Recreation,” a sitcom with perhaps the strongest comedy ensemble on television, is consistently one of the funniest. He is hilarious on Scott Aukerman’s “Comedy Bang Bang” podcast, where he shows off his improv chops and just how versatile his comedic sensibility really is. His own podcast, “U Talkin’ U2 To Me?” is laugh-out-loud funny in the silliest and most delightful way. His performance in Adam McKay’s “Step Brothers” is one of the funniest in recent memory.

His track record only makes what I’m about to say that much sadder. Adam Scott is undeniably the worst part of “Hot Tub Time Machine 2.” His character isn’t introduced until about twenty minutes into the film, and for those first twenty minutes, “HTTM2” is a less fully formed, but still funny and enjoyable, version of the original 2010 “Hot Tub Time Machine.”

The film opens in the present, a present altered by the events of “Hot Tub Time Machine.” In the years since the gang’s trip to Kodiak Valley, Lou Dorchen (Rob Corddry) became rich and famous by capitalizing on his knowledge of the future, inventing Google and fronting a band called Motley Lou. Nick Webber (Craig Robinson) became a famous pop star by “writing” some of the biggest contemporary pop songs before the original artists had a chance to make it themselves. Lou takes great pleasure in ragging on his son Jacob (Clark Duke), brutally making fun of him and forcing him to serve as a butler at parties.

What made the first film in this series work so well was the ample comedic chemistry between its leads, Corddry, Duke and Robinson. Each of these guys has a terrific list of credits. Corddry created and stars in the smart TV satire “Children’s Hospital” on Adult Swim, Robinson was the best part of the blockbuster film “This is the End” and Duke starred alongside Robinson in the last season of “The Office.” The original “HTTM” was a great showcase for their talents. What’s more, their relationship in that movie was natural and compelling. They manage to recapture that rapport for the first
act of this sequel.

Once it’s been established that Lou has enemies who would like to see him dead, one of whom is played by the brilliant comedian Kumail Nanjiani, Lou is shot while hosting a party. Attempting to save his life, Nick and Jacob load Lou into the titular hot tub time machine and go into the past to stop Lou’s killer.

Instead, the time machine takes them into the future, where Lou is miraculously fine. From this miracle, the gang derives that Lou’s killer lives in the future and must have gone back in time to shoot Lou at the dinner party. Their reasoning doesn’t make much sense, but then again, neither does any part of this insane movie. They then meet Adam (Adam Scott), and recruit him to help find Lou’s killer. Hijinks ensure.

In one of the movie’s longest and most problematic “gags,” Adam is virtually raped by Nick on a future TV game show hosted by Christian Slater. Yes, in the future posited by this film, people are literally forced to have sex on reality TV in front of a live studio audience. In another extensive sequence, Adam accidentally takes off an acid sticker earlier than he was supposed to. He vomits uncontrollably until a nurse has to, for some reason, stick a needle in his testicles, causing white liquid to spray out, showering everyone in the room with bodily fluid. These scenes are lengthy, unpleasant, unfunny, uncomfortable and, very simply, wrong.

While the three returning cast members still have strong chemistry, Scott sticks out like a sore thumb. Doing what seems like a bad take on his “Parks and Rec” character, Scott adds nothing to this movie. He isn’t funny, his emotional arc doesn’t pay off and he doesn’t fit into the group whatsoever. As I said before, Scott is one of my favorite comedic actors, and I’ll continue to watch everything he’s in, but here, he’s a mess.

This franchise has given Corddry, Robinson and Duke a real opportunity to shine. None of them are household names quite yet and most of what they do is niche comedy. Corddry’s Adult Swim projects and podcast appearances, Duke’s low-budget web series and Robinson’s scene-stealing bit parts in some of Hollywood’s biggest comedies appeal only to a small portion of the general public.

The first “HTTM” successfully exposed these three actors to a larger audience, and their careers have been steadily on the rise ever since. Hopefully the critical and financial failure of this sequel doesn’t hinder their chances of success in mainstream comedy going forward.

Eli Fine can be reached at [email protected]