“On paper, at least …” has to be one of the most depressing lead-ins to any sentence.
Throw it in front of just about any assessment of anything, and what looked to be bursting with shiny excitement and breathless anticipation is now tarnished a little (or a lot), a pale imitation of what might have been if that enervating phrase hadn’t somehow found its way to the start of things.
Truth be told, even if that blighted resetting of expectations hadn’t begun a review of Snatched, directed by Jonathan Levine to a screenplay by Katie Dippold, the film would still fail to reach even the lowest strata of the dizzying heights that those involved in it expected it to reach.
High expectations can be the only reason that you would assemble the great Goldie Hawn, in her first film since 2002’s The Banger Sisters (this is likely not the comeback she wanted), comedy’s raunch girl of the moment Amy Schumer, who proved in 2015’s Trainwreck that she is a comedic force to be reckoned with, and the likes of Wanda Sykes, Joan Cusack and Christopher Meloni, the latter two who pretty much steal the show throughout, and let them loose in what is supposed, you have to assume, to be a Romancing the Stone-esque romp through the jungles of Colombia.
On paper, and there we are, rather ruefully again, it’s an inspired assembling of talent with a screenwriter who through films like Ghostbusters and Spy has proved she has the chops to write some funny material, and yet, bar a few moments of slapstick lunacy aside (again thanks almost solely to Cusack, who never speaks, and Meloni) Snatched manifestly fails to deliver the goods.
It begins promisingly enough with Schumer as Emily Middleton once again winningly channeling her un-self aware loser girl, who doesn’t realise she is manifestly unsuited to any kind of adult form of life (therein lies the pathos), on a day when she loses her job (pretty much deservedly) and boyfriend (he’s a douche so that one’s not on her) and has only her non-refundable trip to Ecuador to look forward to.
Naturally given her woman child persona, which is obsessed with selfies and the kind of wilful indulgence that only a child can manifest, Emily can’t scrape together a single friend to go with her on her trip, the only thing she has left going – what happens at the end of it? Best not to think of that – and so has to persuade, and it takes some persuading, her risk averse, cat-loving, social inept mother Linda (Goldie Hawn) to come with on the trip of a lifetime.
It’s all going swimmingly at the resort, bar the annoying arrival of super friendly overbearing fellow guests Ruth and Barb as “platonic friends” (wink wink lesbian nudge; yeah it’s like some B-grade British comedy routine from the ’70s, missing only Benny Hill) until Emily meets the devastatingly handsome and charming James (Tom Bateman) who offers to take them both (what a guy!) on a day trip through the wonders of Colombia.
Uh-oh we can all see where this is going; and yet oddly Emily cannot, with only Linda, who is afraid of everything, convinced they are in real danger of, well she doesn’t know exactly but it’s South America so it must be BAD. (Yep there goes the lucrative contract from the Colombian tourism authorities).
It’s supposed to be a riotously hilarious set-up, complete with a cell full of scorpions and weirdly enough a porn mag, and while you can see that it’s all meant to be a bit silly, goofy and lighthearted – well as lighthearted as kidnapping, accidental murder and thuggery can be – it never really fully gels with a weird emotional dissonance kicking in at the oddest times.
For instance, there’s one scene where the head bad guy Morgado, played with trope-like fervour by Óscar Jaenada arrives in a village of kindly souls who have taken Linda and Emily in their hour of need.
Fresh from a sandwiched-in heart-to-heart chat that really doesn’t ring true, that follows hard on the heels of a bizarre tape worm skit that has to be seen to be believed, and trust me isn’t as funny as Dippold thinks it is, the sacrifice that Linda makes for Emily, and the subsequent heart-on-sleeve scene that follows seems ludicrously out of place.
It’s emblematic of a movie that never really seems to know if its a madcap romp through the jungle, a mother and daughter rapprochement session or a hard-edged dive into the seedy side of Colombian life (well Hollywood’s idea of its anyway).
It tries to cram them into a narrative that feels less like a cohesive storyline and more like a series of loosely interconnected skits, leaving Snatched feeling more like the stitched-together offcuts of a failed variety show that a film unto itself.
There are some funny moments, and some truly mirth-inducing performances – again all hail Cusack and Meloni – but by and large this is a film that really should have been allowed to stay lost in the jungle.
It fails to really generate any sustained laughs, emotional connections or engagement with the womens’ plight, and while Hawn remains a comic goddess, she plays Linda’s bitchiness more like an out-of-sorts cuddly teddy bear than the maternal antagonist to Emily’s woman child.
Throw in some truly bizarre brotherly love from Ike Barinholtz, and a State Department official who somehow ends up on a military run to rescue Linda and Emily, far away from his tiny little Washington office, and you have a film that, for a great many reasons, really isn’t worth your time, effort or money.