Friday, July 18, 2014

Sex Tape: A limp noodle

Sex Tape (2014) • View trailer 
Two stars. Rated R, for nudity, strong sexual content, drug use and relentless profanity

By Derrick Bang

Homemade porn (so I’ve been told) tends to reflect the amateur skills of its makers: jittery camerawork, clumsy editing, terrible performances and — needless to say — no plot.

Ironic, then, that a so-called Hollywood comedy about this phenomenon should mimic all these shortcomings.

Annie (Cameron Diaz) and Jay (Jason Segel) discover that, contrary to her original request,
their rather enthusiastic sex tape remained on his master computer, from where it then
migrated to several other tablets in the possession of various friends and family members.
Worse yet, one of those individuals is threatening to post the film to the Internet...
Sex Tape arises from a premise with plenty of potential, to give scripters Kate Angelo, Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller at least that much credit. Annie (Cameron Diaz) and Jay (Segel), during their younger years relentless pursuers of recreational sex, have found that their mutual passion has chilled after 10 years of marriage and two children.

Hoping to re-ignite the flame — and with common sense dulled by too many tequila shots — they park the kids with grandma and film themselves performing every single maneuver in Alex Comfort’s groundbreaking 1972 manual, The Joy of Sex.

In a single three-hour session.

That seems ambitious, given that Comfort’s book is large and rather inventive. But we’ll let that slide.

Mission accomplished, Annie instructs Jay to erase the film (unseen? really?), but of course the amiable lunk forgets. Cue the rumble of ominous drums.

In a rather blatant example of cinematic product placement, Jay — who works in the music biz — traditionally gifts friends with old iPads, when he upgrades to newer models. But the tablets are only part of this generous act; they’re also equipped with copies of the impressive music library he has built over the years.

You know what’s coming: Thanks to Jay’s ill-advised use of an aggressive cloning app, their sex film winds up on every recently donated iPad. The recipients include Annie’s mother, the mailman, best friends Robby and Tess (Rob Corddry and Ellie Kemper), and — most damningly — Hank Rosenbaum (Rob Lowe), CEO of the wholesome multinational toy company Piper Brothers, which has made a lucrative financial offer to sponsor Annie’s “modern mommy” blog.

Assuming she maintains appropriate family values, of course.

(I can’t help wondering if the scripters deliberately riffed on the controversy that erupted back in the early 1970s, when Ivory Snow model Marilyn Chambers — who posed with a baby beneath the tag line “99 & 44/100% pure” — became a porn star with the release of Behind the Green Door. Needless to say, Procter & Gamble dropped her like a hot coal.)

Clumsy set-up notwithstanding — for the most part, this ham-fisted flick is all smutty talk, and very little action — the potential, at this point, seems obvious: Cue a series of hilariously improbable, Mission Impossible-style heists, as Annie and Jay attempt to retrieve the various iPads before their contents are viewed.

Except ... that never happens.

The first few tablets are repossessed with very little effort, and even less comedy. Then we spend what seems like hours with Rosenbaum, as Annie distracts him while Jay searches the CEO’s lavish house. Thereby disturbing Hank’s large German shepherd, which chases Jay for-ever. While Annie resolutely continues her role by ... snorting cocaine with Hank, who apparently isn’t as conservative as he seems.

At about this point, one can only conclude that director Jake Kasdan is trying to drag laughs from us. Because he and the cast certainly don’t earn them.

I shouldn’t be surprised, because Kasdan has a history of moronic, lowest-common-denominator comedy dreck. Previous big-screen efforts include the gawdawful Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and the not-much-better Bad Teacher, the latter apparently having encouraged Diaz and Segel to further debase themselves with this newest train wreck.

Things go further south when Robby and Tess’ obnoxious adolescent son, Howard (Harrison Holzer), having obtained a copy of the sex marathon, threatens to upload it to a porn server unless Jay forks over $25,000.

By this point, watching Annie and Jay drop F-bombs like confetti has become merely tedious. Dragging a child into these smutty proceedings, and giving him similarly coarse dialogue, crosses a line into something distinctly uncomfortable: definitely shameful, possibly unacceptable. Either way, very not-funny.

Then, apparently wanting to be equal-opportunity with the ill-advised exploitation of minors, Annie and Jay drag their own young children along while gaining unlawful entry to some massive porn servers, in a naïve attempt to save the day by destroying the computer banks before their film goes viral.

At which point, I could only throw up my hands and conclude that the lunatics had taken over the asylum.

Not to mention lamenting the missed opportunities, while imagining the far superior French film that could have been made from this same premise. Because, let’s face it: Nobody does sex comedies better than the French.

And nobody does them worse than we Americans.

Kasdan’s film is a textbook example of bad choices, starting with the lengthy prologue’s relentless said-bookism. We can see Annie and Jay taking every opportunity to copulate like rabbits, whether in public or behind closed doors; we don’t need to have them tell each other (and us) how bleeping much they bleeping love to bleep. That redundant verbal exposition continues throughout the entire film, long past the point the words themselves have any ability to amuse, or even offend.

Some supporting players are badly used, most notably Corddry and Kemper, who spend most of their screen time standing like statues and staring, blank-faced, at the camera. No doubt Kasdan regards these as slow-burn reactions to so-called hilarious situations; I call it somnambulance.

Nat Faxon makes a pointlessly brief appearance as Jay’s sexting friend Max, never to be seen again. Nancy Lenehan merely looks confused as Annie’s mother, and well she might; the poor actress certainly isn’t given anything to do.

Lowe is modestly amusing as the narcissistic Hank, whose interior décor runs to commissioned artworks that place his face on key characters in various Disney animated classics. And an unbilled Jack Black adds some much-needed energy to the third act, as owner of the porn hub that Annie and Jay attempt to destroy.

Diaz has made a point, during recent interviews, of acknowledging her game-changing willingness to do much of this film in the buff; no question, she has ample reason to be pleased with her 42-year-old bod. Segel is equally bold, although we’re spared the Full Monty he unleashed in 2008’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Instead, this film cleverly plays coy with both stars, their naughty bits concealed by limbs, lamps, cushions and other artfully placed props ... a gag employed to far greater humor in the Austin Powers films.

Only buns get exposed here. Frequently. Which also grows old.

Ultimately, this film’s biggest problem is that it never fully embraces its own premise with the audacious élan demanded by such material. Everything is cheated and clumsy: barely-there measures half-heartedly performed by two badly directed stars who rarely live up to their own verbal enthusiasm.

The result is rather like watching an actual porn film that has been edited down to late-night cable standards. And we all know how unsatisfying those are.

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