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In the new comedy Sex Tape, Annie, a sex-starved wife whose love life with sex-starved husband Jay has hit the skids, laments the quality of today’s pornographic movies, remarking that “the writing has gone downhill.”
It’s a joke of course, though not particularly funny or original.
Yet there is an unintentional wisdom in the line as an observation of Sex Tape and the overall state of Hollywood comedies.
The writing has indeed gone downhill. And Sex Tape isn’t too far from the bottom of the heap.
Directed by Jake Kasdan. Screenplay by Kate Angelo, Jason Segel, and Nicholas Stoller. A Sony Pictures release, playing at Rave Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons.
Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, language, and some drug use. Running time: 90 minutes.
Critic’s rating: ★½
Cast: Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Rob Lowe, Rob Corddry, Ellie Kemper.
The film pairs Cameron Diaz (Annie) and Jason Segel (Jay) as a self-absorbed couple whose relationship was built on a mutual joy of sex. And lots of it.
Before they got married and had two children, Annie and Jay did it anytime and anywhere.
Jump ahead a decade, and as they rush the kids out the door for school, they’re having to schedule a bedroom session for later in the week.
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But to celebrate Annie’s popular mommy blog being purchased as part of a corporate toy-maker’s marketing campaign, to which she expects to be well paid, the kids are sent to her parents’ for the night, leaving them with an empty house to rekindle their passion.
They start with a roller skating scenario. Then different rooms. Followed by tequila shots.
And when all of that fails, they turn to making a sex tape on their iPad in which they attempt to cover all the coital positions in that classic 1970s guide, The Joy of Sex.
Given its R-rating and subject matter, Sex Tape is surprisingly PG tame, with rear shots of Annie and Jay and their sex presented as a a series of onscreen gags, as the couple tries and fails to spice up their routine for the camera.
Hours later when they’re finished and exhausted from their sex marathon, Annie makes Jay promise to erase the video. He doesn’t, their video gets out, and hilarity ensues. But not really.
Diaz and Segel shared tangible comic chemistry onscreen in 2011’s dark comedy Bad Teacher, but in Sex Tape they struggle for laughs — no matter how many F-bombs are dropped in a sentence.
Annie and Jay aren’t particularly likable, either, and their incessant whining about how badly they miss having marital relations — as opposed to pressing problems like struggling to pay the bills or medical issues — does little to change that.
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The script — originally written by Kate Angelo (The Back-Up Plan) and later polished by Segel and Nicholas Stoller, who cowrote 2011’s wonderfully inspired comedy-musical The Muppets — is a sitcom plot tripled in length and heavy on bad words, like a young stand-up using profanity as a crutch to deflect attention from his amateurish jokes.
Director Jake Kasdan can’t cover the film’s shortcomings, either.
Kasdan also directed the funny and profane Bad Teacher, yet musters none of that film’s contagious humor and energy, instead stringing together limp gag after limp gag. First this involves Annie and Jay’s boom-turned-bust sex life. Later it’s their wacky attempts to keep their video — now stored on several iPads and in the Cloud — from being seen by their family, friends, and mailman, and anyone online. Their night of misadventures includes a vicious German Shepherd chasing Jay, as Annie snorts cocaine with her rich future boss Hank (Rob Lowe, who easily garners the biggest laughs), who isn’t as uptight and wholesome as she thought.
Along for much of the trip is another sex-starved married couple, Tess and Robby (Ellie Kemper and Rob Corddry), who are friends with Annie and Jay, and have such a boring life that they gladly spend their 12th anniversary helping to keep the video from spreading. They also have an obnoxious son named Howard (Harrison Holzer) who worms his way into the story, while other characters deliver a line or two and simply disappear.
As with Diaz and Segel, Kemper and Corddry are funny actors tasked with working extra hard for meager returns. Even Jack Black, in an inspired though uncredited cameo as the owner of an Internet porn site, fails to get more than a laugh or two.
As with most leaked sex videos, Sex Tape is more embarrassing to those involved than memorable to those who watch it. And the quicker it‘s forgotten, the better for everyone.
Contact Kirk Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.