“Sex Tape”, the new film from the people who brought us “Bad Teacher” (which should have been my first clue this firm would suck), is a film that squanders a pretty good premise due to poor execution. Worse, with two pretty obvious changes, the film could have been so much better.
Annie (Cameron Diaz), a mother of two, writes a daily blog about parenting that is drawing the interest of a super-conservative toy and baby product company - they want to buy the blog, to help reach more of their customers. Jay (Jason Segel) is a producer at a local music station who uses a lot of iPads to store and come up with the playlists - when he gets a new iPad, he gives the old ones away. Because Jay and Annie are so busy and the kids take up so much of their time, they feel it necessary to schedule when they are going to have sex. But to celebrate the potential sale of her blog, Annie takes matters into her own hands. When Jay arrives home, Annie appears, wearing very little and the message is clear. After some aborted starts, they decide to make a sex tape of them performing every position in “The Joy of Sex” (I know, not exactly a ‘modern’ idea). Cut to the end of the marathon session and Annie sleepily asking Jay to remember to erase the sex tape. The next day, Jay gets a phone text complimenting him on the video. Uh - oh. Not only did he not remember to erase the video, it has been synced to all of those iPads he gave away to friends, family members, the postman, Annie’s potential new boss (a very creepy Rob Lowe, but maybe that’s redundant…). They have to get all of the iPads back and erase the video, to save their embarrassed egos.
Directed by Jake Kasdan (“Bad Teacher”, “Zero Effect”, “Walk Hard”) and written by Kate Angelo (“The Back-Up Plan”) and Jason Segel, the film’s amusing beginning is quickly squandered when the story becomes weird and unfunny during the interminably long middle act before a slightly funny end tries to redeem all of the mess we were just forced to sit through.
Before we go any further, let me address something about this film. There are two words used repeatedly throughout the film. The first is the f-word. The other is ‘iPad’. Seriously, I think iPad might be used more than the f-word and the f-word is used A LOT in various incarnations. There is also a significant amount of screen time setting up the improbable way all of these people will get the opportunity to see this video; Jay gets new iPads at work, puts a playlist on the iPad, gets a new iPad, gives the old iPad away to friends and family, but his new music selections continue to get synced to the iPads. When he realizes the mistake, he and Annie have to visit everyone and get their iPads backs before they watch the video synced to their iPad. “Hi, do you have the iPad I gave you? I kind of need that iPad back? The iPad I gave you with the music? The playlist is the gift, not the iPad!” Wow. It is easily one of the most obnoxious uses of product placement in a movie, even more than “Transformers: Age of Extinction”. At least in “Transformers” they promote different products. In “Sex Tape”, Apple must have been a co-producer. I can't think of any other reason a product would become a character in a film. Too bad they didn’t pick a better film.
The first act is all build up to the creation of the sex tape. After a few bad starts, they finally decide to make a video and set-up an area of debauchery in their living room. “Okay, here we go”. They open “The Joy of Sex” and start reading before the film cuts to the next morning. It’s an interesting decision, to not show any of their amateur work, and it sort of promises that there will be something even wackier coming up. Cutting out any part of the sex tape seems to say there isn’t enough time for that. Wait till you see what we have up our sleeve.
When Annie and Jay realize what happened, they visit friends to retrieve their tablet and then realize one of the iPads was given to Hank (Rob Lowe), her potential new boss, and they have to get that back. They go to his house and find him alone at home. Jay begins to search the house while Annie tries to keep Hank occupied. This scene seems to go on F-O-R-E-V-E-R. And the filmmakers try to make it funny (some visual gags in Hank’s house are amusing), but Hank just comes off as creepy. Lowe simply smiles the whole time, in a lecherous, pedophile kind of way, and the things he does while Annie is around are just wrong and unfunny.
When they finally leave Hank’s they have to go to a few more places, and then another obstacle and then another.
But none of these shenanigans live up to the promise of the sex tape. It simply doesn’t deliver.
As mentioned, Kasdan makes two mistakes... In the final moments, there is a barrage of material meant to be funny. This same material could have been used throughout the film, to punctuate Jay and Annie’s ‘journey’ to retrieve the iPads, giving us little moments of laugh-out-loud raunchiness. But instead, it is all at the end of the film. A missed opportunity if you ask me.
The other mistake is to have Rob Lowe play Hank. Rob Lowe was probably an obvious choice for the film, given his own reported history with sex tapes. But he is playing a creepy guy, who does strange things, and it just sort of reinforces all of the preconceived notions we may have of the actor. And he isn’t funny. Just creepy. Did I mention that he seems a little creepy?
In the beginning, Cameron Diaz seems to be portraying your common middle-class mom, (although 'middle-class' - by Hollywood standards - their house is huge and they live in a tony LA- area neighborhood) she seems fairly natural. Post sex tape, she becomes a little more hyper, but she strangely seems to be dow- playing Annie. It makes for an odd, not entirely satisfying performance. She showed more range in “The Other Woman”, and that was a pretty broad comedy. Jason Segel also seems to be going for a more natural performance until they begin the hunt for the iPads. Once they start to visit their friends and family, Segel’s Jay seems to become a male Lucille Ball, getting into one physical altercation after another.
Rob Corddry and Ellie Kemper (TV’s “The Office”) play a married couple, Jay and Annie’s best friends. They have a couple of amusing moments, but nothing so funny you will remember it beyond the viewing of the film.
Jake Kasdan’s first film “Zero Effect” showed a lot of promise. It was strange, offbeat, funny. Since then, he has worked on television shows (“Ben & Kate”, “New Girl”) and disappointing films like “Walk Hard” and “Bad Teacher”. I think the common theme among his films is they seem incredibly forced. The funniest films have at least a thread of naturalness running through – the situation creating the laughs or comedy may be forced and unnatural, but at least you believe the characters would get into this situation because something about them makes them real to you. If everything seems forced, it becomes more like a television sitcom where everything happens at an accelerated pace because they don’t have the time to let things happen in a more real environment. Kasdan’s ‘real-life’ moments just don’t seem all that real and only add to the artificial nature of the narrative. This happens again and again in his films and seems to indicate he doesn’t have the ability to pull them off. Unfortunately, "Sex Tape" does nothing to reverse Kasdan's trend and only seems to be more of the same, showing us that maybe this once promising director has little new or exciting to say.
“Sex Tape” is a movie that squanders its few funny moments and spends too much time, way too much time, on material that isn’t.