Jake Kasdan’s messy Sex Tape opens with a whimper – or, more appropriately, a typed out whimper, one begging for help by way of blogging about it. Annie (Cameron Diaz) is a stay-at-home mommy blogger with two young kids who can’t quite understand why her sex life with her husband Jay (Jason Segel) has fallen off so spectacularly in the years since they first paired up. Thanks to both dunderheaded voiceover narration (ostensibly pulled from Annie’s blog post on the subject) and some impressive makeup trickery, we learn Annie and Jay’s origin story – basically, they met in college, where they had sex. A lot of sex. Now they don’t have so much sex, and it’s sad. (It actually is pretty sad – these two crazy kids sure seem like they’re trying.)
Desperate to spice up the physical aspects of their marriage, Annie cooks up a phenomenally flawed plan: they’ll make a sex tape on one of their (many, many) iPads, showing the duo attempting every position from the seminal “Joy of Sex” text. It’s ambitious, to be sure, but it’s also the sort of thing that can only lead to mayhem and madness. Oh, guess what! It does.
The film’s major plot point hinges on a nonsensical (and, frankly, just plain illogical) conceit – not just that Jay and Annie’s sex tape (not deleted, despite Annie’s demands that Jay do so) has gone up into “the cloud” (nothing in this film as is nebulous as “the cloud,” it might as well be actually made of water vapor), but that it’s gone up into the cloud and then filtered down into a hefty number of iPads that Jay has apparently given out at random to family and friends (and even their mailman). The iPad thing is “explained” early on – “explained” because, wow, this just does not make a lick of sense – when Jay receives two brand new tablets at work. The assistant that delivers them asks, both for the plot and for the audience, “why two iPads?” Any explanation offered here will sound insane, but here goes: Jay, who works as a producer at a terrestrial radio station, gets new iPads on the regular in order to store his music, one for old and one for new. Although the music is stored in, yes, the cloud, Jay still cycles out his old iPads for new ones (handing out the old ones, complete with his ever-evolving playlist), touting their apparent upgrades along the way.
But who cares what kind of camera an iPad has if it’s used mainly for music? And why not just use the cloud for all that storage? And what sort of radio station is so flush with cash that they’re buying multiple iPads at once for just one employee? Aren’t those iPads the property of the radio station? Why the hell is this plot point so weird and stupid that we have to still talk about it to pull any semblance of sense from it? Who decided to build a movie around this? Why? Why?
If audiences are willing to suspend quite a bit of iPad disbelief, Sex Tape still doesn’t reward them for their loyalty.
The real issue at hand is that Annie is trying to sell her mommy blog – “Who’s Yo Mommy?” – to a large toy chain (led by Rob Lowe’s impressively odd Hank) that’s all about family values and she’s terrified that a sex tape will sink her professional plans. Yes, filming yourself having sex is pretty embarrassing (and, really, what a bad idea all around) – but what’s so embarrassing about doing it with your actual spouse, breaking out some apparently impressive moves, and lasting for three hours? Halfway through the film, when an exasperated Jay asks if it even matters anymore, it’s hard not to scream at the screen, “it doesn’t!”
The rules of the wackiness surrounding the eponymous sex tape appear to be relatively straightforward: find iPads, get iPads, wipe video, the end. Annie and Jay even recite their target list over and over (the mailman, always with the mailman) and set about ticking their would-be victims off the list. It’s a scavenger hunt, and even if it’s not a unique way to approach a comedic narrative, it’s a familiar and workable one. Too bad it’s thrown out about halfway through the film, after a series of way-too-easy saves (Annie’s mom, the couple’s best pals Tess and Robby) and a long-form adventure at Hank’s mansion that involves equal parts gangster rap and cocaine. Moral values. Sure. Doing it for their family. Okay.
That narrative derailment eventually leads to the reveal of a brand new set of villains – a texting taunter who apparently has the tape in hand and the owners of an Internet site who are on the cusp of posting it– and Sex Tape’s loose narrative drive zips lazily off in another direction. The film’s editing is choppy and jarring, with scenes dropping off too early and picking up too late, odd repetitions of plot points and jokes peppering the narrative, poor comedic timing killing gags, and the creeping sense that large swaths of material were cut from its mainly formless middle.
It certainly does not help that the film is thick with foreshadowing that’s nearly impossible to miss – Annie and Jay’s son’s prowess with the computer, an early debate over a saved file name, Tess and Robby’s weirdly creepy kid – effectively diffusing almost every possible surprise. (Rob Lowe’s Hank, however, does manage to cram his every scene with eye-popping weirdness that’s surprising if only because he’s so strange.)
The heart of Sex Tape is about family and love and relationships (hey, it’s got some sweetness buried underneath all that raunch), but while Annie and Jay are willing to go to great lengths to preserve all those things by killing the tape, they’re not willing to actually think through their problems. Quick fixes are presented only after any number of uproarious, idiotic situations unfold, apparently for the laughs, though little of it adds up to a truly amusing experience.
The bones of a good company are maddingenly in place here – the cast is indeed very funny and they all exhibit strong comedic chemistry with each other (Diaz and Sigel are a great pairing, as are Ellie Kemper and Rob Corddry as Tess and Robby), and while the execution of the story is mind-bogglingly bizarre and so far removed from the real world that it’s almost frightening, Annie and Jay’s problems are actually relatable. Here’s a couple that clearly loves each other (and Segel and Diaz make an extremely cute pair, redirecting their weirdo chemistry from Kasdan’s Bad Teacher in a fresh way) and are dealing with an everyday issue in the worst and stupidest way possible. Having a sex tape isn’t embarrassing, at least within these parameters, but Sex Tape is more than shameful on its own.
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