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Entries in Sex Tape [2014] (1)

Wednesday
Dec312014

Sex Tape (2014)

Winners and Lubers

It's okay to like Sex Tape, right? I mean, by this point I've unofficially forfeited my film-critic bona fides* so often that standing (okay, crouching) behind one of 2014's worst-reviewed movies is hardly grounds for a scarlet letter. I laughed once and chuckled twice, neither of which happened during director Jake Kasdan's previous effort, Bad Teacher--which also starred Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel. Comedically, both films bury the bar, but Sex Tape has just enough spark to recommend as a giggle-free curiosity. 

The premise is sitcom-simple (fitting, since writer Kate Angelo comes from TV): Diaz and Segel play Annie and Jay, a bored suburban married couple with two kids and no sex life--a marked contrast from their pathologically pornographic college days. To celebrate the forthcoming sale of Annie's mommy blog to a huge toy company, the couple enlists Annie's mother (Nancy Lenehan) to babysit while they hole up with tequila, an iPad, and The Joy of Sex. Of course, Jay forgets to delete the three-hour memento of their romp, which soon makes its way to friends, family, and Annie's clean-cut prospective boss, Hank (Rob Lowe). Cue a night-long quest to get all the copies of the video back before anyone has a chance to press "Play".

I've boiled down the plot to help make the particulars make sense. Sex Tape's convoluted carnal capers are forced and unfunny, and serve as a harsh contrast to the relative honesty with which Angelo and co-writers Segel and Nicholas Stoller imbue Annie and Jay's quieter moments. It's refreshing to see the less glamorous aspects of married life in a mainstream comedy. The protagonists never fell out of love, they simply fell into a routine that, over time, has tarnished their once-sparkling romance. Though Kasdan's picture basks in the buttery, white-privilege gloss of a Pier 1 circular (down to his stars' all-hairs-in-place looks and movie-tired-but-not-tired-tired demeanors), Diaz and Segel nail the anxiety and disappointment of grown-up living in their performances.

One moment in particular made me sit up and take notice. Jay receives a text message from an anonymous number, teasing him about the video. He writes back, hoping for a clue as to the person's identity. Instead, he's left hanging for a couple minutes, and the look on Segel's face conveys the dread of being found out, but also the inherent itchiness that accompanies waiting for any kind of response in the age of constant information. The scene belongs in a smarter movie, but it's characteristic of a few observational gems that make Sex Tape work intermittently.

Aaaand there's the problem. Kasdan and crew detour from each interesting path by plowing into mud-traps of desperate farce. The revelation of Rob Lowe's character, for example, as a coke-snorting metalhead who commissions Disney portraits featuring himself is terrific; he's like the wealthy, slightly more balanced cousin of Elijah Wood's Kevin in Sin City. Running parallel to this story, however, is an extended gag involving Jay's encounter with Hank's guard dog, who catches him snooping around the mansion. The scenes drag on so mercilessly that I had flashbacks to This is the End, wondering if anyone would ever escape that goddamned house.

At the very least, we don't have to endure the machinations of Hank finding out about the video and forcing Annie into a compromising position. His story evaporates, making way for a brand new adventure where the family reunites for a midnight trip to YouPorn headquarters--where the person blackmailing Jay has allegedly uploaded the incriminating evidence for distribution online. We do, however, suffer a cameo from the company's owner, played by an awkwardly accented Jack Black. He offers Annie and Jay sage advice about marriage; removes their video from his queue before it goes live; and doesn't press charges for ramming his building with their truck, breaking into his server room, and trying to destroy his information hub.**

Because there are still ten minutes to kill in the run-time, our scot-free happy family can't simply head home for pancakes and therapy. They must attend a fourth-grade graduation ceremony, which will either feature the sex tape on a large screen or Hugh Grant kissing a woman as the curtain flies up. Not to worry: the film may be filthy, but it's suburbia-safe filth. In a weird way, Kasdan wants this to be his Love Actually, not his Bad Santa. Sex Tape is a hugs 'n lessons picture wrapped in the tawdry packaging of armpit licking and crotch summersaults.

Like last summer's Neighbors, Sex Tape offers a more complex look at parenting than we're used to seeing at the movies--particularly in dumb comedies. That film was more insightful and far funnier, but Angelo, Segel, and Stoller at least give sincerity a try here. Too bad for everyone involved that gross-out gags and artificial conflict rarely play well with emotional honesty: seeing Annie turn shrill and angry on a dime is one of the film's more depressing reminders of what we're really watching.*** Still, I've just written nine-hundred words about this movie--something I'd have never thought possible before putting it on. The experience has been oddly stimulating, and no matter how hard my future-self may argue the degree to which I shamefully enjoyed it, the Internet will never let me forget.

*Just wait 'til you see my "Year's Best" list.

**Don't call it a Porn Hub. That's a different site, which we learn when Black "hilariously" lists his competitors' names in rapid succession.

***That and the eyeball-assault product placement for Apple and YouPorn.