Silver Screen: Sex Tape *
Suspension of disbelief is like a contract between an artist and an audience. The viewer tacitly agrees not to nitpick certain implausibilities, and in return the creator implicitly promises to tell them a good story if they’ll just overlook a few minor inconsistencies.
The new comedy Sex Tape opens with what you might call a big ask. Director Jake Kasdan wants us to believe that thirty-four-year-old Jason Segel and forty-two-year-old Cameron Diaz are lusty college students. For those of you who suspended disbelief during elementary-school math class, that would make Diaz a full two decades past graduation age. It’s the equivalent of asking Jennifer Lawrence to convincingly play a four-year-old.
The disjunction is only highlighted when the action leaps forward fifteen years or so and the couple is living the suburban dream with their two young children. Diaz looks identical, with barely a hairstyle change, only now the dubious numbers seem skewed in the opposite direction. She waxes about the overwhelming demands of motherhood and laments her inability to ever find time to hit the gym, yet when she flashes her bare bum during one of the movie’s uncomfortable, stilted attempts at salaciousness, it does not look like the ass of a weary mother of two who hasn’t seen the business end of a treadmill in ten years.
These are exactly the kind of incongruities you fail to notice in a good movie, but in Sex Tape they’re just a few more additions to a growing list of the incongruous, the unlikely, and the inexplicable. Diaz’s butt is just the canary in the coal mine (so to speak). Nothing about Sex Tape adds up, not the poorly sketched characters, the unnecessarily complicated scenario, nor their inconsistent (yet also inconsistently inconsistent) actions.
The trouble for Annie (Diaz) and Jay (Segel) begins when, in the midst of a romantic rut, they decide to spice things up and film their own homemade porn movie. All goes well until the not-so-tech-savvy Jay accidentally uploads it to a playlist that he syncs onto a series of iPads that he’s given away to their friends and family. When they receive a text from a mysterious phone number congratulating them on their amateur production, they freak out and head off into the night to track down all the missing iPads before their video gets wider distribution.
The premise is actually a pretty good comedic setup, but Kasdan and screenwriters Segel, Nicholas Stoller, and Kate Angelo have no idea what to do with it. A lot of time and exposition is spent setting up the needlessly elaborate multiple iPads problem, which is all in service of turning the movie into a one-crazy-night story that finds the stars racing through town in a series of wacky misadventures to destroy all the evidence; as such, the sex tape itself becomes a kind of generic MacGuffin.
The reality of having compromising photos or videos leaked to the public is a common and compelling modern problem. Only once, very briefly, does the movie explore the issue in any detail. During a bit of down time in their kooky quest, Jay and Annie ponder the implications of having their intimate experience uploaded onto the internet, and wonder if it would really be such a terrible thing. Then just as quickly as it’s brought up, the discussion is closed so they can race off to another unfunny setpiece— dealing with a kid who’s trying to blackmail them for $25,000, doing cocaine with Rob Lowe, or breaking into the building where YouPorn houses its servers. More frustrating, to undermine their own hyperbolic reactions, the pair keep discovering simple technological solutions to their problem after the fact.
It’s exhausting, unfunny, and, worst of all, covertly stodgy and sex-negative even as it feigns naughtiness. Only America could produce a movie that’s simultaneously so vulgar yet chaste and repressive. Segel darting across the frame bare-assed hardly seems reason to laugh or panic after we’ve already witnessed his far funnier and more vulnerable full-frontal moments from the vastly funnier Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Annie and Jay are punished for indulging in the most minor of conjugal kinks.
To quote the great film critic Pauline Kael, “It’s a real boner-killer.”
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.