Sunday, July 20, 2014

V/H/Sexy Time: Diaz and Segel do all they can to keep "Sex Tape" from going soft

Sex Tape (2014) 
95 min., rated R.

Comedies can be easy to evaluate; you either bust a gut or you don't make a single peep. But a lukewarm comedy is sometimes hard to pinpoint if you find yourself smiling and chuckling but are always in control of your breathing. "Sex Tape" is such a movie. Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel got together before in 2011's "Bad Teacher," so director Jake Kasdan collaborates with them again, but nearly forces the two valiant stars to strap this material to their backs and drop all of their inhibitions, even when the material doesn't exactly do the same. About as consequential as whipped cream, this R-rated, high-concept farce isn't the howl-worthy summer yukfest we could have had, although it wrings passing chuckles and regular smiles out of its dopey, contrived premise. Diaz and Segel make such an affable pair, too, that one might be willing to give this quickie a whirl on a lazy, rainy day.

College sweethearts Annie (Cameron Diaz) and Jay (Jason Segel) used to be unable to keep their hands off one another, getting it on like rabbits in the car and library because they couldn't wait to get back to their dorm room. (Even there, they would forget to shut the door.) Enjoying sex before tying the knot and having two kids, the couple has now hit a dry spell. She, working as a "mommy blogger" who may be catching a break with a company interested in buying her blog, and he, having some ill-defined job at a radio station putting together playlists, have tried and failed to get the magic back in the bedroom. One night, Annie decides to drop the kids off at her mother's and spice things up with Jay at home. Nothing works, so they decide to throw back a few tequila shots and make a sex tape of themselves performing every single position from the '70s literary tome "The Joy of Sex." After their night of fun when Jay thinks he has deleted their video, he receives an anonymous text message that proves otherwise. But wouldn't you know? The three-hour video has synched to the playlists Jay put on every iPad he gave away, so Annie and Jay must go on a run to retrieve them all and erase their dirty laundry for good.

"Sex Tape"though technically, it should be "Sex Video File," which decidedly has less of a ring to it, so it's just as well—doesn't have anything to prove. It's cheerfully smutty, but not straining or working up a sweat to be trendily gross or raunchy. It doesn't even have the most outrageous sex scene of the year—that little prize would go to "Neighbors" between Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne. There are stupid sitcom complications with small stakes and then there are stupid sitcom complications with small stakes. In order for the premise to work, we must accept a few implausibilities. At work, Jay is given a bunch of free iPads, so what does he do? He gives them to friends, Annie's mother, acquaintances like Annie's potential boss and the mailman, as if they were baked goods. After meeting Annie and Jay (both Diaz and Segel distractingly de-aged) in their college years, all we learn about them is they were practically former nymphomaniacs with a running exchange, "I love fucking you" and "I fucking love you." If their naked bodies are unleashed onto the Interweb, do Annie and Jay really have anything to lose? At most, they'll be embarrassed, forget about it within a week, and then laugh about it later. All of this is small potatoes if the situations are ripe for humor, but working from a screenplay by Kate Angelo (2010's "The Back-up Plan"), Jason Segel & Nicholas Stoller (2012's "The Five-Year Engagement"), director Kasdan has little control of pacing, a tendency to telegraph jokes and a blackmailing plot development that makes zero sense. As romps go, this one lags on its way to the central setup, pushes itself into a corner, and then has trouble keeping the one-joke premise going. Finally, it bends over backwards for a vanilla, moralistic, entirely timid message about spousal communication and that's just a drag. 

Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel are funny and likable in their own right, and together, they're even more funny, likable and game to get naughty. Their Annie and Jay seem to live beyond the confines of the script pages; that is until technologial ineptitude is what drives the proceedings, particularly Jay's cluelessness about how the iCloud works. Diaz still goes for it and isn't shy about showing her bare backside, while a very slimmed-down Segel is sometimes off his game; has he lost some of his timing as he has off his waist and in his face? As Jay and Annie's nonjudgmental married friends Robby and Tess, Rob Corddry and Ellie Kemper are practically left to their own devices, but they are still reliably enjoyable and give their screen time some pep. There's just not enough of these second bananas who could have beaten out the leads. Rob Lowe (himself no stranger to sex-tape scandals) might be the biggest surprise, giving a slyly weird supporting turn as the seemingly aw-shucks honcho of a company who sees brand potential in Annie's blog. Also, the very adorable Giselle Eisenberg gets a few laughs as Annie and Jay's daughter Nell who asks existential questions.

Instead of seeing Jay and Annie make their sex tape in real time, the centerpiece of the film comes when the couple tries to force their way into the mansion of Annie's future boss, CEO Hank Rosenbaum (Rob Lowe), to retrieve the iPad she gave him. Diaz and Lowe sell this whole sequence with a random, frantic energy, as Annie ends up snorting a line with Hank and seeing his looser side. Meanwhile, Jay never gets anywhere in finding the iPad, as the script demands he become even more of a dim bulb and outrace a growling German Shepherd on the second floor. Despite an amusing line involving Siri, didn't canine slapstick die out after "Father of the Bride Part II" and "There's Something About Mary"? After that pit stop, where the most comic mileage was, the film sags some more and starts to feel like a padded 95 minutes where everyone is winging it, including an unbilled Jack Black. From the way Annie and Jay are written, they would never break and enter the porn-site headquarters and damage the servers with their kids in tow. That's just foolish, but, as the late, great Roger Ebert would say, "The Idiot Plot" makes them do it. "Sex Tape" is mostly just there, getting sucked up into a cloud of disposability, and even the existing laughs fall out of consciousness once both feet touch the parking lot. You won't mind watching it, which needn't be hidden from the world, but a laffer with this much talent should have been faster, funnier and randier to run with the comedic majors. The sweet, hilariously dirty "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" mined a like-minded scenario multiple times better.


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