The unwieldy premise of the new Cameron Diaz/Jason Segel comedy “Sex Tape” gets in the way of any real fun. There are laughs intermittently throughout the movie, many coming in hilarious slapstick involving a German shepherd. But then there’s that lousy premise.
As billboards all over town announce, “Sex Tape” is about a married couple who make such a video of themselves for private consumption, then forget to hit the delete button. You can pretty much guess what happens next.
As everyone knows about any sex tape, nude photos or naughtiness that get posted to the Internet, once they’re up you’re not going to be able to take them down.
But the screenplay by Kate Angelo, Nicholas Stoller and Segel himself imagines that, well no, they’re not exactly posted but rather — oh boy, this gets complicated — on iPads with several friends, acquaintances and even the postman to whom Segel’s dippy husband has given them as gifts.
See — boy, it gets even worse in the telling — there’a a “cloud” malfunction and then Segel’s Jay is using a new app he doesn’t understand that syncs everything on his iPad to all those other iPads. So if he and wife Annie (Diaz) can just retrieve those iPads in a single frantic night …
Like I say, not a workable premise.
Better that the sex tape had gotten posted and the comedy dealt with the ramifications of this rather than a tame and tepid journey into a night of “viral-prevention.”
As a matter of fact, this technologically challenged husband discovers a way to wipe out the tape remotely so it comes down to only two iPads, one belonging to best friends Robby and Tess (Rob Corddry and Ellie Kemper) — until Robby and Tess’ unsupervised sociopathic son (Harrison Holzer) makes a dupe — and the other to a toy company’s very peculiar CEO.
The best friends, while denying that they ever watched the tape — you know they’re lying — join in the nocturnal hunt so it really comes down to the weird CEO and his iPad.
Director Jake Kasdan has cast Rob Lowe in the role of Hank Rosenbaum, head of multinational toy company Piper Brothers. I can only guess this is meant as a wink-wing nudge-nudge since Lowe all but invented the sex tape scandal back in 1988 when few people even understood the Internet.
(If you don’t know or remember what I’m talking about just Google Rob Lowe and sex tape scandal.)
Anyway Lowe acquits himself in fine fashion here as he thoroughly kids his public image including past substance abuse and infamous Snow White Oscar ceremony dance number.
Indeed most of the film’s laughs come from this episode as Hank, the head of a family-values company, is about to purchase Annie’s blog about her life as a wife and mother. Nevertheless, he gets kinkier by the minute. So while he “entertains” Annie, Jay scurries about his mansion looking forlornly for the iPad.
The movie then cuts between Hank convincing Annie to indulge in cocaine while Jay encounters a vicious guard dog in various slapstick stunts of increasing mirth. He also encounters other signs of Hank’s kinkiness including a double-ended dildo and art work scattered throughout the house in which Hank’s face is painted into scenes from his favorite cartoons, “The Lion King,” “Pinocchio” and so on.
The movie goes really slack after that highlight though. Indeed the adolescent boy’s blackmail scheme once he becomes the sole outside possessor of the sex tape yields no laughs at all. He’s just too creepy.
There is another tacked-on sequence in which Annie, Jay & even the kids break into a building that hosts an amateur-porn site. This features a surprise cameo by Jack Black. Yet the sequence never yields the humor the film so desperately needs.
The stakes are never high enough to warrant all the farcical mayhem and criminal behavior by an otherwise normal, everyday couple. Nor is any forward momentum established in the script’s structure.
Mostly Annie and Jay continue to have the same argument throughout, turning the movie into a couples therapy session from which you’d like to be excused. The movie simply stalls on too many occasions.
Production values in this runaway production where Massachusetts substitutes for Los Angeles are only so-so except forJefferson Sage’s design of Hank’s mansion and the sharp editing of those dual situations.
The strain of working for laughs in lame situations makes Diaz and Segel look very tired as the night wears on. The two appear naked frequently throughout the movie but it’s almost entirely the peekaboo kind of nudity. About all a viewer sees is that these two actors have clearly been working out so their bodies are very trim and fit.
So congratulations to them for that but please pick better movies or in Segel’s case write better movies next time.
Opens: July 18, 2014 (Columbia Pictures)
Production companies: Columbia Pictures in association with MRC and LStar Capital presents an Escape Artists production
Cast: Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Rob Corddry, Ellie Kemper, Rob Lowe, Nat Faxon, Nancy Lenehan
Director: Jake Kasdan
Screenwriters: Kate Angelo, Jason Segel & Nicholas Stoller
Story by: Kate Angelo
Producers: Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Steve Tisch
Executive producers: David Householter, Jason Segel, Jake Kasdan, David Bloomfield, Ben Waisbren
Director of photography: Tim Suhrstedt
Production designer: Jefferson Sage
Music: Michael Andrews
Costume designer: Debra McGuire
Editor: Tara Timpone
R rating, 95 minutes