Despite an intriguing setup, Sex Tape squanders its clever premise with an underwhelming combination of cheap jokes and ham-fisted family drama.
In Sex Tape, college sweethearts Annie and Jay enjoy a healthy sex life full of exhibition, experimentation, and passion – until they decide to buy a home, get married, and have kids. Years later, with two young children, a mortgage, and careers, the pair find it increasingly difficult to make time for a physical relationship – resorting to scheduled sex “dates” that are often disrupted by everyday obligations. As a result, Annie and Jay begin to wonder if they’ve entirely forgotten how to be physical together and set out to find a way to spice up their stagnant sex life.
After another failed rendezvous, and a few tequila shots, the pair decide to film themselves as they attempt to work through every position in “The Joy of Sex.” The salacious activity successfully jump-starts the couple’s intimacy but it isn’t long before they realize their private evening has been made very public – as Annie and Jay’s sex video is automatically synced to iPads the couple gifted to friends and family. In an effort to contain the mishap, husband and wife race to recover every iPad before their acquaintances get a chance to watch “An Evening with Annie and Jay.”
Jake Kasdan (Bad Teacher and Orange Country) directs Sex Tape from a screenplay written by Kate Angelo, Jason Segel, as well as Nicholas Stoller – and while there are some laugh-worthy moments, there is also an overabundance of forced drama and obvious gags. It’s a harmless comedy with relatable ties to modern families (and sex) – one that should provide mild enjoyment to middle-aged couples who understand the challenge of balancing married life (both in and outside of the bedroom). Still, Kasdan ultimately presents a jumbled mix of on-the-nose comedy set pieces and contrived emotional threads that fall short of the potential within Sex Tape‘s entertaining premise.
The actual story is a chalky blend of hollow romantic comedy tropes and over-the-top attempts at laughs (that rely heavily on Segel’s penchant for on set improvisation). The finer details, such as the occupations and quirks of the characters, have been retroactively developed in order to prevent plot holes (example: Jay works for a radio station and syncs his favorite playlists with friends/family) – meaning that, while everything can be explained, the movie is so concerned with covering its bases that characters are watered down to flat caricature. It’s as if Kasdan attempted to take an otherwise standard romantic comedy, about a mommy-blogger looking to rekindle the fire with her husband, and inject loads of Judd Apatow-style raunch dramedy – instead creating a mishmash of heavy-handed melodrama and outright cartoonish comedy situations (exemplified by a ridiculous scene that utilizes a porn king parody to dole out lessons on life and love).
For all of Sex Tape‘s eye-rolling sequences (including yet another “Man vs. Guard Dog” chase), the main characters are well-intentioned – so, even when individual jokes fall short, most viewers will still relate to the couple and their unfortunate situation. Annie (Diaz) is placed front and center, narrating the film’s opening, as well as enjoying slightly more development than Jay (Segel). Diaz is enjoyable in her role, presenting Annie as sharp but vulnerable, relishing in the film’s most scandalous moments. Yet, it’s clear that, at times, the actress is struggling to keep up with Segel – since the humor of the film is geared toward the comedian actor’s brand of rapid-fire impro.
For that reason, Segel carries several of Sex Tape‘s bigger laughs – with self-deprecating jokes and a familiar nice guy portrayal (that is reminiscent of prior characters in the comedian’s filmography). Nevertheless, in spite of their individual efforts, Diaz and Segel lack the onscreen chemistry necessary to make Annie and Jay a memorable movie couple. They work well enough to carry Sex Tape‘s shenanigans but, for a film about recapturing love and passion, Diaz and Segel can be pretty stiff.
Fortunately, Kasdan surrounds his leads with an entertaining supporting cast. Unsurprisingly, Rob Lowe is a standout as Hank – a corporate executive who is in the process of purchasing Annie’s “Mommy Blog.” Lowe borrows from his portrayal of fan-favorite Chris Traeger on Parks and Recreation but, even if the character isn’t a significant stretch for the actor, Hank offers a biting juxtaposition of wholesome family values and repressed depravity. Similarly, Rob Corddry and Ellie Kemper, playing the couple’s best friends, Robbie and Tess, are also responsible for many of Sex Tape‘s best jokes. Like most of the film’s characters, Robbie and Tess are limited to stock tropes but their playful enjoyment in Annie and Jay’s misfortune usually results in amusing payoff – even if none of their scenes break particularly fresh comedy ground.
Despite an intriguing setup, Sex Tape squanders its clever premise with an underwhelming combination of cheap jokes and ham-fisted family drama. Middle-aged viewers, especially those that are married with children, will get more enjoyment out of Annie and Jay’s misadventure than other theatergoers but, even with a few funny set pieces, Sex Tape is still a misfire on a number of levels. Movie fans who are expecting an outrageous raunch comedy or a thoughtful (and funny) satire about modern family dynamics will likely find that Kasdan fails to bring all of his Sex Tape ideas full circle – ultimately delivering a disjointed experience that struggles to turn a timely story idea into satisfying big screen comedy.
Sex Tape runs 94 minutes and is Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some drug use. Now playing in theaters.
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