A film review by Craig J. Koban July 29, 2014 


2014, R, 97 mins.


Cameron Diaz as Annie  /  Jason Segel as Jay  /  Rob Lowe as Hank  /  Ellie Kemper as Tess  /  Rob Corddry as Robby  /  Jolene Blalock as Catalina  /  Randall Park as Edward

Directed by Jake Kasdan  /  Written by Kate Angelo, Jason Segel, and Nicholas Stoller

You know, for a film that’s supposed to be a sex comedy – and the fact that it also has the word “sex” in its title – there's very little in the way of hearty laughs or, hell, even eroticism in SEX TAPE, a new comedy can’t ever decided what kind of tone its aiming for.  

There is certainly a promise of a titillating and edgy premise here – a fortysomething married couple with kids decide to make a sex tape to rekindle their lost hedonistic drives, only to then find out that it accidentally went viral – but director Jake Kasdan fails to deliver on this high stakes – but, let’s face, someone dated – concept.  It’s the kind of hard-R rated screwball farce of all out debauchery that the Farrelly Brothers would have had a field day with…back in the day.  SEX TAPE rarely feels as salaciously cutting edge as it thinks it is for the genre. 

Cameron Diaz and Jason Segal return as an on-screen pair (they were last seen in Kasdan’s own BAD TEACHER, and the pair had a sort of oddball chemistry together playing educators with a longing for love).  Even though the duo are an effective and winning duo in SEX TAPE and give it their all with a free wheeling abandon, Diaz and Segal never really seem to generate as much audience interest in their characters this go around.  As the film begins we see Diaz’s Annie recount how she met and fell in love with Jay (Segal), long before marriage and long before they had children (these flashback sequences, to their credit, use some sort of de-aging visual effects that seem a bit more natural looking than what other films have attempted).  In the infancy of their relationship, both Annie and Jay were dynamos in the sack together.  They couldn’t get enough.  

Well, as the film shows the couple in the present day, they are indeed still happy and fairly well adjusted spouses as well as parents…but the sex, alas, is AWOL.  Finding time – and sometimes the energy – to get it on has become an arduous task for them.  After multiple failed attempts to get their sexual appetites back, Annie has an epiphany to – yup – make a sex tape with her hubby’s new iPad, replete with a stunning new retinal display (in one of the film’s many obtrusive and beyond obvious shout-outs to Apple products).   Swearing to try out every position in the book THE JOY OF SEX, Annie and Jay commit to their tape with the zeal of kids in a candy store.  Even though they've just had the proverbial night of their respective lives, Annie suggests to Jay to permanently delete the recording. 



Jay, alas, has other plans…actually…scratch that…let’s just say that he makes a catastrophic blunder of accidentally uploading the tape to all of the iPads that he previously owned, but has now given away as gifts to friends, family, and, yup, even the creepy looking mailman.   Predictably, this sends Jay and his wife into a fanatical frenzy, especially when they begin to receive anonymous texts from an apparent stranger that has seen their tape and perhaps has the power to spread it all over the Internet.  This causes Annie in particular to panic, as her blog is about to be purchased by a family-values-friendly corporation, which will, no doubt, be none too appreciative of her private sextivities appearing publicly online.  Jay and Annie then go into crisis lockdown and engage in one wacky misadventure after another to ensure that the “best night of their lives” doesn’t permanently ruin their lives forever. 

Considering the ample talent on board here both in front of and behind the camera, SEX TAPE feels, dare I say it, neutered and flaccid in the laughs department.  Kasdan has made some amusing comedies before (see the underrated ORANGE COUNTY) and co-writers Nicolas Stoller and Segal previously teamed up to make one of the finest romcoms in many a moon in FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL.  That’s not to say that SEX TAPE is completely bereft of guffaws, but the comic timing and momentum seems hideously off at times (that, and at barely over 90 minutes, the film feels excruciatingly longer than that).  Also, considering the subject matter – and that the lead stars frequently appear in varying states of undress - SEX TAPE seems to lack raw nerve.  It’s the kind of sex comedy that lusts to be in-your-face with a high smuttiness factor, but there are very few genuine moments of endearing soft-core ribaldry to be had.  The film is just not…naughty enough.  It comes off as safe and pedestrian. 

When the film fails at tawdriness you’d hope that it would make up for it with some lively merriment.  Segal and Diaz are very game and shrewd minded comedians, to be sure, but they play characters that are such unmitigated morons that I constantly felt that they were intellectually above the material given to them.  It can be said that the stars here at least go for broke in the film with a capricious energy that many other performers would shy away from, but the characters they play – on paper – are too shallow minded, too lacking in common sense, and too colorless to deserve our rooting interest.  As the film careens from one zany set piece to the next Annie and Jay become less compelling as credible personas and more like caricatures and puppets at the mercy of the film’s outlandishly contrived plotting.  Segal himself – who appears to have shed a considerable amount of weight for the film – looks sort of gaunt and unhealthy.  Remember the full frontal scenes he did in FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL where he displayed his manhood and love handles without a care in the world as to vanity?  The comedic essence of that loveably pudgy schmuck – that Segal has played to sublime perfection - is vacant in SEX TAPE.    

SEX TAPE – despite its ungainly tonal focus with its would-be racy material – has a saving grace ace up its sleeve in the casting of Rob Lowe as Hank, a C.E.O. of a corporation that wishes to buy the rights to Annie’s blog.  Outwardly, this dude has a Walt Disney-esque amiability and appears to be a kind, considerate, and an ethically strong family man.  Alas, during one long middle sequence of the film – as Jay secretly searches through Hank’s house for an iPad with their recording on it while Annie distracts him – the mogul reveals his true colors as a Heavy Metal loving and cocaine addicted party animal that’s desperate to get crazy with friends when his family is out of town.  The casting of Lowe here – whom had his own notorious sex tape scandal a few decades ago – is one of the great in-joke coups of the film.  Lowe commits himself to his wink-wink role with a real gusto.  He’s arguably the epicenter of SEX TAPE’s most uproarious laughs. 

Unfortunately, there’s not enough of Lowe’s assured comedic chops to save this film from capsizing on itself.  SEX TAPE just doesn’t seem to understand its material to fully harness it the way it wants to.  That, and there already was a lewd and crude comedy earlier this year (NEIGHBORS) that did an infinitely better job of showing how adult responsibilities like marriage and parenthood can unforgivably zap couples’ sex drives.  That film felt like a documentary compared to SEX DRIVE, which is just too cartoonish and clumsily handled for its own good as it tries to segue between sensationalistic vulgarity and heart tugging merriment.   This is a comedy with little sizzle and even less chuckles. 

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