Sex Tape (dir. Jake Kasdan)

Posted: October 15, 2014 in Uncategorized

“Sex Tape” takes a pretty sweet concept for a comedy, that of a married couple whose sex life is lagging deciding to spice things up by filming themselves having sex, and does surprisingly little with it.  If you gave that concept to ten wannabe screenwriters and told them to write a film, you’d have ten better scripts than the one for the finished “Sex Tape” film, which was written by Kate Angelo and then re-written by the screenwriting team of Nicholas Stoller and star Jason Segal. Chances are, not all of those films would be comedies either.  Stoller and Segal are responsible for perhaps the funniest comedy of the previous decade, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” (though “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”, “Superbad”, “Scott Pilgrim” and others certainly rival it), but they haven’t been able to replicate that film’s success.  They both wrote the Muppets reboot, which some didn’t like because it was depressing and wanted to guilt the audiences in to liking the Muppets again.  I enjoyed the reboot, though.  They also wrote “The Five-Year Engagement”, a film unseen by me and most of America.  While Segal has had solo success as an actor, Stoller’s solo work as a director is responsible for this year’s “Neighbors”, a film I found to be an unfunny mess, and the okay but disappointing “Get Him to the Greek”.  Let’s not even talk about his screenwriting work on “Gulliver’s Travels”.

I don’t know anything else about Kate Angelo, but it’s hard to imagine Segal and Stoller did much to improve her original screenplay.  “Sex Tape” opens fairly well, with a montage of a new couple’s horniness and adventurous public sexcapades, and then showing how marriage and two kids can make people tired and slow down their libidos.  Then, however, we’re largely treated to an Apple commercial (seriously, the product placement in this film brings to mind Brad Pitt sipping a Pepsi in “World War Z” for some of the most blatantly obvious and distracting of all time) as not-so-old fogies try to cope with the current face of technology (the cloud, apps, syncing, remote wipes, talking smart phones, video editing software, YouPorn, etc) and get their groove back.  The film tries to play this off as a generational thing, with younger characters using technology effortlessly (our  main characters’ son uses tech effortlessly to edit a video for school, another young boy uses technical know-how to blackmail the protagonists), but if The Fappening has taught us anything, it’s that age is not the deciding factor in how tech savvy people are, and anyone is in jeopardy of having private photos and video get out there…unless they try using an actual camera not hooked up to a wi-fi connection.  Gee, no one ever thinks of that.  If anything, “Sex Tape” makes for lousy product placement because it spreads mistrust of technology.  Siri on the iPhone mishears a request from Jay (Segal) at one point.  An app syncs the titular sex tape to a number of different ipads because Jay doesn’t know how to work it.  It even makes a small plot point out of editing software (either iMovie or Final Cut) saving files with a default title of “Video1” or “Movie1”.  Aside from an improbably scene where an iPad survives being thrown out of a window and Jay actually comments on its “durable construction”, this movie makes for a poor commercial, no matter how many glowing Apple logos appear in it.

The film is hard to completely dislike, and that’s largely because of Cameron Diaz, who plays Annie,  Jay’s wife and a blogger who is looking to join with a company that makes baby products (I think).  Diaz makes up for her horrendous performance in “The Counselor” by being genuinely charismatic, bubbly, funny, and downright likable throughout the film.  Even when the film gives her lackluster material, she really goes for it and tries to elevate the material.  Not to mention, at the age of 42, she’s sexier in this film than she’s been on screen in a long time.  She may have failed at femme fatale in “The Counselor”, but she pulls off just-a-tad-too-sexy-housewife quite well, and comedy has always been her strong suit rather than drama.

Special notice also goes out to Rob Lowe, who plays the head of the company Annie wants to partner with.  He’s been playing pretty quirky characters lately (“Californication” anyone?), but his cocaine and Disney-loving heavy metal dweeb in this film is the best thing about it, and the scene where he and Annie bond over a line of cocaine is the film’s highlight, even if it is intercut with a painfully unfunny sequence with Jay battling a dog.  Jack Black also makes a cameo as the head of YouPorn, and the movie’s deliverer of its Big Message.  Black needs a new agent or something.  I shudder to think of him playing R.L. Stine in the upcoming “Goosebumps” film.  He really needs to get back in a place where he’s doing more “School of Rock”, “High Fidelity”, and even “Tenacious D” stuff.  Lately….I dunno.

“Sex Tape” was directed by Jake Kasdan, who has made MUCH better films before.  His directorial debut, “Zero Effect”, is a hidden gem.  “Orange County”, written by the invaluable Mike White, is one of those better Jack Black movies and a sadly forgotten comedy that was quite good but didn’t remain in the cultural memory.  He last teamed with Segal and Diaz to director “Bad Teacher”, which was better than “Sex Tape” but not the “Bad Santa” of school movies that it wanted to be.  I can’t blame him for taking this project as it teamed him up with actors he’s succeeded with before, and the idea behind this film is solid on paper, but the nitty gritty of actually writing jokes and making this thing funny, well, it needed more work.

Also, I have to say that the editing of this film is horrendously choppy in places where it’s obvious they did multiple takes with different lines and tried to edit together the best of each take into one scene.  Judd Apatow and films by his extended film family sometimes have the same issue, but usually laughs make up for it.  Here, there are simply not enough laughs to be had, no matter how much we’re enjoying watching Cameron Diaz smile or Rob Cordray do his thing.  Sadly, Ellie Kemper is wasted in this film as Cordray’s wife.

Look, the film is 90 pain-free minutes of film with watchable leads and at least one genuinely funny scene.  It’s a shame, though, because the concept could have produced a much better film. C.


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