Review: SEX TAPE, A Comedy Strained To The Breaking Point
Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel look good naked. This is an important plot point in Sex Tape, so please pay attention to their naked bodies, especially when they are having sex or trying to have sex.
When they meet in college, Annie (Diaz) and Jay (Segel) cannot keep their genitals away from each other, seizing every available opportunity to have sex in every conceivable position in every imaginable location. Soon, however, marriage and children get in the way of the sexing, and they becme vaguely unhappy, aware that they are not having the sex, kinda wishing that they could once again have the sex like little sex-mad bunny rabbits, and then, of course, they would be happy, because everything else in their lives is, apparently, perfect!
Then Annie gets a great idea: why not get a babysitter and spend the night having sex? She writes a popular "mommy blog" about marriage and raising children that's attracted an offer from a toy company, so it's a perfect time to celebrate. Unfortunately, poor Jay cannot perform, despite their best efforts, but then Annie suggests making a sex tape, which prompts Jay to rise to the occasion. And then the tape is uploaded to "the cloud," and the couple must make frantic efforts to get it back.
Diaz and Segel previously worked together under the direction of Jake Kasdan in 2011's Bad Teacher, a movie I quite enjoyed for its bawdy, character-based comedy, which eschewed sentimentality for cynical acceptance. In Sex Tape, Annie and Jay are defined almost entirely by their sexual desire, or lack thereof, which could have been the basis for a darker, more piercing examination of their relationship. From the evidence, they've rarely, if ever, spent any significant time without their children. Having married in the heat of passion after Annie got pregnant, how have they lasted? Sure, sex is an important component in any intimate relationship, but is that all they have? Do they stay together only out of a sense of obligation?
Those questions are addressed, briefly and in a perfunctory manner, late in the game, which means the bulk of the running time is split between setting up the sex tape scenario and then quashing it, which could have been the basis for any number of wildly funny comic moments. Indeed, the film flies off the rails in search of outrageous comedy. But with ill-defined characters serving as the springboard, the leaps of humorous abandon too often fall flat, as in, 'Why on earth would any rational human being, no matter how desperate, do that?'
In the past, I've been impressed by Kasdan's ace comic timing, aided and abetted by Tara Timpone, his usual collaborator as film editor. But something seems off about the rhythms here, especially in the early going; it's edited for wisecracks and reactions that are not, in themselves, funny, nor are they part of a sequence that builds to the release of laughter. (Timpone shares credit this time around with Steve Edwards.)
Really, everything in the film before the 'sex tape scene' feels like awkward foreplay, more nervous than arousing, in any sense of the word. (The screenplay is credited to Kate Angelo, various sitcoms, as well as The Back-up Plan, Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller; Angelo is credited for the story.) It plays like a 10-minute skit that has been stretched well beyond the breaking point, and gets increasingly desperate, flailing for comic life.
Rob Corddry, Elle Kemper, and Rob Lowe provide effective support, as far as it goes. Diaz and Segel are game to try anything, but a little more baring of souls -- rather than the baring of butts -- would have gone a long way toward making Sex Tape a more intimate and fulfilling experience.
The film opens in wide release in theaters across North America on Friday, July 18.