by Philip Price
Once again we have reached a point in the Summer movie season where we not only get what we expect this time of year, but where those expectations seem to be filled out of some sense of obligation rather than an organic idea. If you have been reading this site for any period of time you know I tend to be kind to comedies as I seem to have a soft spot for them and their actors; a wishful kinship if you will. That this kind of relationship exists makes it difficult when I know a movie isn't great (or even very good) but the fact I still found moments to laugh at forces me to want to give it more credit than it's due. Expectations likely play a role in this slight bit of sympathy for “Sex Tape” as anyone might tell you not much of them existed for this film. I always secretly hope that these raunchy, ridiculous comedies will be better than audiences and critics expect and will do their best to prove them wrong, especially those including anyone from the long lost its steam Frat Pack or Judd Apatow's gang of misfits. This latest collaboration with director Jake Kasdan though has Jason Segel seeming more on auto-pilot than ever. Segel is a naturally funny guy and a better writer than he gets credit for as he is able to tap into those "that's so true" moments with such ease, but he is doing nothing more than his typical shtick here. The last time Kasdan and Segel met-up was the not-so-much better “Bad Teacher,” but Segel was used to such minimal effect there it felt like a bit of an inside joke that he could show up, do his thing and retreat into the background. Kasdan was having fun with the heightened reality of the premise and Cameron Diaz owned the titular role to the point it drew crowds given the comparison it was basically “Bad Santa” with a sexed-up Diaz. In “Sex Tape,” the trio attempt to deliver that same kind of raunch with a broad and outlandish premise, but the well runs dry about halfway through because it never takes off in the way it should or even could have.
The first of many issues with the film begins in the opening shot as individuals in these types of films are always given the most fantastical kinds of jobs. We meet Annie (Diaz) as she writes on her blog (“Who’s Yo Mommy” of all the generic titles in the world) about the loss of any kind of sex life between her and her husband Jay (Segel) since becoming busy parents. Not only does Annie have the ability to stay at home with her children and write for a living, but the opportunity to sell her blog to a large corporation for an unspecified amount of money (though it is expected to be substantial) is on the horizon. To make matters even more comfortable Jay works at a radio station where we presume he is some kind of manager or show-runner as he has access to a plethora of iPads that allow him a system of logging music for the station. This little detail brings us to my main fear going into this movie which is that the premise was almost too outlandish in that the execution would be a convoluted mess to try and convince us that it was even a possibility for all of Jay and Annie's friends to have access to the content of their personal devices. Giving Jay this profession and somehow making it seem plausible that a never-ending stream of iPad's is necessary to keep adding music to his library gives him an excuse to hand out the older models as gifts with the extra bonus of containing his expansive music catalog that in turn syncs the gifts with the rest of Jay's content including the titular video he and Annie decide to make to spice up their sex life. From here, the movie is basically a race against time to save their reputations and job prospects which attempts to position the film as a rage-fueled night of adventure to turn the predicament around, but really only boils down to one set of circumstances involving Rob Lowe and cocaine. Naturally, there is an underlying attempt to make the creation of the sex tape represent more than just a mean to an end in recapturing the intensity of their early relationship, but Kasdan is unable to balance the raunchy with the sweet in the same, credible way Apatow generally does.
The hook with this film was always going to be the re-teaming of Segel and Diaz as their comedic chemistry was the highlight of “Bad Teacher” and spelled at least some excitement for a feature-length documentation of what their relationship might be like. In this regard there is a lot to love at least about the first half of the film. The comedy is light and the setting-up of the premise is promising. Though these characters live in this kind of fantasy suburban-land where everyone has shiny white houses and fences and celebrate fourth grade graduations (and throw parties for it) we can at least relate to them as people which means understanding the hassle of day to day life and the frustrations that come along with getting older and taking on more responsibility; these points of connection may be broad, but this is me likely being too kind. The opening montage in which Diaz's Annie recounts the infatuation stage of her and Jay's relationship contains a few gems in terms of comedic moments as does the aforementioned trip to Lowe's mansion. Lowe plays Hank Rosenbaum who is Annie's prospective boss at Piper Brothers, the toy company interested in acquiring Annie's blog, who at first seems to be a very conservative personality as he asks Annie about cleaning up the aforementioned post about the couples sagging sex life to make it more in line with the Piper Brothers brand. When Jay and Annie catch Hank on a night-in by himself in an attempt to retrieve the iPad Annie gave him with her resume and presentation on it though, things get a little crazy. This scene, which involves Hank and Annie sharing a few lines of blow, discussion of diarrhea, fights with German Shepard's, drawers filled with dildos (which seems to be a common theme in summer comedies this year) and last but not least Disney-inspired paintings incorporating Lowe's face is, needless to say, the highlight of the film. That certain amount of energy the film opened with continues through the ups and downs of Annie and Jay trying to re-capture the passion of their sex life, the idea to make a video with the concept of doing every position in "The Joy of Sex," to the realization their tape has been uploaded to the cloud and through to the element of mystery that is incited by a text message that sends them on this wild goose chase to the point things were looking better than expected. It is after this landmark scene featuring Lowe that things begin to fall apart though and the film loses steam and is unable to recover even through a fun appearance by Jack Black near the conclusion.
The most disappointing aspect of “Sex Tape” though is that it is a comedy with a brash title that is almost afraid to be defined by any of the thoughts, ideas or words that might relate to such a subject. It is a somewhat risqué title and premise that is explored within the constructs of a safe, standard comedy. Sure there are shots of Segel and Diaz's dairy aire's and close-ups that suggest they are in difficult, abnormal positions and there is a profuse amount of profanity in ways that make you wonder how the people around them don't get irritated, but we never really feel like the envelope is being pushed. This brings up another point of missed opportunity in the supporting players. Lowe, while only in a couple of scenes, is able to make a major impression and I was really hoping that the likes of both Rob Corddry and Ellie Kemper might be given the chance to do the same if not more. Corddry and Kemper play Robby and Tess, Jay and Annie's good friends who they hope are the culprits behind the mysterious text message. The couple have a fun, carefree dynamic and the appeal of both the actors playing them goes a long way, but unless they are playing up the running joke of their characters ogling over their friends sex tape which in turn gives them reason to re-kindle some passion, there isn't much for them to do. Robby and Tess have a son, Howard (Harrison Holzer), who is an odd bird from the get-go and plays into the story in way that is ultimately unfortunate, but more than anything I wish writer Kate Angelo would have better fleshed out these supporting players so that not only would the talents of Corddry and Kemper be able to bring them to life, but give them something more to add to and riff on that would have added a more grounded reality to the extreme premise and safe constructs. Ultimately, “Sex Tape” comes down to Segel delivering a heartfelt speech that feels more generic than moving as the film’s climax and is an archetype we've of course seen countless times before. The film attempts to dig deeper by getting to the core of the issue that pushed Annie and Jay to feel the need to make a sex tape in the first place, but this combined with everything else the film is throwing at us doesn't add up to a satisfying experience.