Sex Tape, directed by Jake Kasdan (Bad Teacher, New Girl), is a small “c” comedy with big “C” comedy aspirations it never quite realises.
With a script by the same scriptwriters (plus one, Kate Angelo) who, oddly enough, brought us 2011’s sublimely wonderful The Muppet Movie, star Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, it suffers from stretching a premise that might have made a decent if forgettable episode of an average network sitcom, into an hour and a half that never quite gathers any real comedic momentum.
It’s not for want of trying with Segel and Diaz, who play sweetly devoted, if exhausted husband and wife, and parents Jay and Annie, whose relationship begins in a blizzard of endless sex in every place and position imaginable, before devolving, as all mature relationships seem to do, into the occasional bit of half-hearted fooling around, trying doing their best, almost to the point of passing out from the effort, to inject the tired set pieces and half-done slapstick sequences with the sort of life they clearly lack on paper.
But alas no amount of superhuman effort – Segel in particular, though charming as always, over-emotes and over-pronounces almost every word he has to utter (words he wrote mind you) with such force that it sounds like he’s hoping that sheer syllabic grunt alone will elevate the material – can rescue the movie which seems to run of steam just when it theoretically should be gathering a full head of it, and then some.
Even the good old “Vicious Attack Dog Chasing Hapless Victim Around Overly Large House”, surely a classic of the genre, generates more winces than guffaws as the dog in question is subjected to being knocked out by a weighty library book and a too-fast treadmill in its pursuit of a hapless Segel who is racing around his wife’s potential employer’s home in search of an iPad containing the titular sex tape file.
Somehow the tech-savvy Segel has never heard of a Remote Wipe which would have deleted the incriminating file from not just the iPad of sleazy-at-home, prim-and-proper-at-work CEO of squeaky-clean child products company Piper Brothers, Hank Rosenbaum (Rob Lowe) who wants to buy Annie’s funny, if sometimes explicit, mommy advice blog, Who’s Yo Mommy, but from everyone to whom he has ever given one as a present (and with whom he maintains a usually arm;s length digital relationship via Frankensync delivering them new songs every time he creates a playlist).
If he had employed such a device it would have saved him some bloodied marks and a great deal of exhaustion, and us the spectacle of watching comedy naturals like Ellie Kemper and Rob Corddry who plays Annie and Jay’s best friends Tess and Robby, and even Diaz who can usually lift the most insipid of material, desperately trying to revive a movie that never seemed to have much life in the first place.
The film is not without its charms however.
The first part of the movie which documents Jay and Annie’s slide from the giddy whirl of new romance into married sexual inertia, weighed down by life commitments and two inevitably cute and preternaturally possessed kids, Clive (Sebastian Hedges Thomas) and Nell (Giselle Eisenberg), is warm and fuzzy lite.
While not laugh out loud funny – Sex Tape only intermittently achieves this rare, if short-lived, feat – there is a semblance of sweetness and authenticity, a believable bond of friendship, intimacy and enduring love between Jay and Annie that makes you believe they could be a couple.
It’s what makes their decision, fuelled by a suggestion from Annie, to make a sex tape based on every one of the positions in the Joy of Sex over three hours, seem like the sort of things they would do, desperate as they are to throw a spark back into their sexual relationship.
When you find get to see reasonably G-rated sections of the tape – the movie is awash in butt shots of both Segel and Diaz – it is, alas, as laboured and overly thought-through as the rest of the film, any suggestion of comic spontaneity long ago leached away by jokes that you see coming somewhere around the opening credits of the film.
But Jay and Annie, thankfully, are at least a likeable enough couple, as are their bests Robby and Tess, who are given one of the few genuinely clever lines when, surprised at home on a rare kid-free night and evasively looking for all the world they were caught watching porn, admit to being in the middle of season 1 of Breaking Bad, an embarrassing admission in this binge-watching, hyper-sharing age.
The Cloud itself, supposedly responsible for this mess, although only on the most tenuous of bases surely, is the target of jokes at one point with Jay admitting that no one actually understands what it is, true enough to a point but only capable of sustaining one passing joke in the car as Jay and Annie race on one frantic night to retrieve iPads, retrieve their file from homemade sex tapes site YouPorn, and save their reputations.
Unfortunately, none of these amusingly sweet or occasionally laugh-out-loud moments are enough to rescue Sex Tape from a complete lack of momentum and the sense that every line, joke and situation has been worked over so often that any sense of playful spontaneity has long since departed.
Multiple attempts to engender riotous farce, the kind many British and French films do without blinking, fall flat every time, a victim once again of cliched ideas reheated one too many times by a script that tries to inject some raunch into the romantic comedy genre while playing around with the tropes, and comes up wanting.
Sex Tape, while possessed of an engaging premise and appealing leads and supporting cast, fails to execute on pretty much all of its big ideas, neutering the farcical sense of fun and hilarious hijinks they were clearly aiming for, leaving us with a weak, insipid comedy that overstays its welcome by a considerable margin.