A defiantly R-rated farce seemingly commissioned to plug the We’re the Millers–shaped hole in the summer lineup, Sex Tape is warmer and more amusing than its ads would lead one to believe. In fact, it’s almost good enough, leaning a little too hard on the innate likability of stars Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel. Reuniting with director Jake Kasdan from 2011’s Bad Teacher, they play Annie and Jay, a couple of married-with-children Angelenos whose once-inexhaustible libidos seem to have Logan’s Run their course.
Oh, is that reference — to an ancient sci-fi set in a world where this sort of trouble doesn’t come up much because everyone gets euthanized at age 30 — obsolete? Well, so is the premise of Sex Tape. This is a film that wants us to accept that Jay — a gadget guy who has some undefined but apparently lucrative music-industry job that has earned him not merely a huge house full of framed Submarines and Belle & Sebastian posters but also so many extra iPads that he literally hands them out as gifts, not just to close relations but to the mailman, too, as if he’s Oprah Winfrey of Nazareth herself — doesn’t grok how the Internet works.
Jay’s amiable, sitcom-dad cluelessness might go down easier if Segel weren’t one of the film’s three credited writers (with Kate Angelo and his frequent collaborator Nicholas Stoller), but I’ll buy it. There are plenty of early adopters/frequent upgraders with only a vague notion of how to use their expensive toys. The important thing is that it’s the latest one.
Maybe Annie pays for all their stuff. She is a professional blogger after all, ka-ching, ka-ching. She’s been told to expect “a meaningful offer” from a kids toy manufacturer that wants to buy Who’s Yo Mommy?, the website where she reminisces, in Sex Tape’s funny opening sequence, about the good old days, when she and her now-husband used to do it in the stacks at the library, in the car, on the quad, in the shower, etc.
When she and Jay can’t manage to get it together during their first night in forever away from their two adorable moppets, they resort to making an iPad sex video — and like an EpiPen spiked into the heart of their flatlined love life, it works wonders. (Health warning: The heart is, in fact, a really bad place to inject anything.) But when the three-hour video threatens to go WikiLeaks, thanks to all those hand-me-down iPads, Annie’s fat blog paydays — and her and Jay’s dignity — are endangered.
For a very long time, Sex Tape ceases to be a sex comedy and turns instead into a kinda-sorta-not-bad chase flick wherein Annie and Jay run all over the 310 area code in an effort to recover all their iPads, presumably so they can use a Sharpie to redact the naughty bits.
This includes a long stop at the mansion of the CEO of the company that wants to buy Annie’s blog. (The CEO is played by Rob Lowe, no stranger to sex-tape leakage.) The sequence features a funny, extended sight gag about his character’s penchant for commissioning paintings of himself inserted into famous scenes from Disney cartoons. But an extended slapstick bit of a German shepherd chasing Segel through the guy’s mansion goes on longer than the building-toppling finales of most Marvel films.
Why does Jay not wipe these things before he gives them away? Annie quite reasonably demands that of him a very long time after the audience has asked this question. His answer: Because his killer playlists are the gift, not the device, and he updates them constantly. (Actually, that a dudebro like Segel’s character would say that is probably the film’s most plausible moment.) Who among us can remember every single person to whom we’ve ever given a mix CD that costs $399 and up, not including monthly data plan?
Well. At the summertime box office, as in Kansas, we vote our aspirations, not our reality. Just as audiences during the Great Depression flocked to comedies about nattily dressed, well-spoken, high-living society types, perhaps the maxed-out, second mortgage–holding marrieds of 2014 will be drawn to Sex Tape — which, for all its supposedly reassuring candor about how kids can sap the mojo of even the randiest couples, is pretty tone-deaf about how financial woes can steal it, too.
Kasdan used to be more attuned to this kind of thing. He started his feature career with the great and odd little comic mystery Zero Effect back in 1998. He’s done good work in TV, most notably on the much-praised, little-watched Freaks and Geeks and on New Girl. Though movies such as the music biopic parody Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story have flickered with intermittent hilarity, nothing he’s done since Zero Effect (which Kasdan also wrote) has felt as weird or indelible.
Certainly not this. Sex Tape sports an appealingly judgment-free message about porn and its role in committed relationships, and it features a couple of welcome, late-arriving cameos to help drive it home. And it’s stuffed with more comic talent than it knows how to use: Rob Corddry and Ellie Kemper have time to register as Jay and Annie’s best friends, but Nat Faxon and Kumail Nanjiani are in the movie for maybe 60 seconds apiece.
But the flick’s biggest boner-killer is its relentless shilling for Apple and — really! — the amateur-adult-video-sharing site YouPorn.
“I buy them two at a time,” Jay says when his assistant, or somebody, hands him two still-shrinkwrapped iPads.
Later, he praises the resolution of the iPad’s camera.
Still later, he marvels how easy it is to sync his data among his various Apple devices (including, crucially, the ones he’s forgotten he gave away). Eventually, a blackmail-minded 12-year-old will point out that wiping them remotely of all data is a cinch, too — not that a doddering, senile, 34-year-old like Jay could be expected to know that.
But at least he’s speaking to another character in that scene. There’s also a moment when he picks up one of these miracle devices after falling out of a window with it and blurts, to no one, “The construction on these things is incredible!”
Now it can be told: Sex Tape is the product placement–iest film in recent memory that isn’t about giant robots trashing Chicago and part of Detroit made up to look like Hong Kong.
The movie gets points for casting 41-year-old Diaz as the spouse of 34-year-old Segel; good riddance to the days when every 48-year-old male lead seemed to have a 25-year-old wife. And their nudity is rationed with admirable parity. Diaz looks amazing, for 41, or for 21, and Segel — who heroically showed us his flaccid junk in Forgetting Sarah Marshall — is as stretched out and pale and soft and smooth as ever. Good for him. He’s a genuine and versatile comic talent, and if he ever did a set of crunches, his innate funniness would instantly drop by half. (He’ll next play David Foster Wallace. This should probably be a footnote instead of a parenthetical aside.)
After that wobbly second act, Sex Tape finally does reward us, in its last moments, with a speed-through of its titular MacGuffin, wherein Annie and Jay gamely attempt to execute every single position featured in The Joy of Sex — possibly the only old-timey paper book in their home. The sequence is euphorically, shamelessly goofy, two consenting adults hurling their no-longer-invulnerable bodies at one another like 10-year-olds doing cannonballs on the first day of summer vacation — and then taking turns holding an ice pack on their bruised genitals. In this sequence, Sex Tape finally looks like the truly superfreaky comedy Kasdan and Diaz and Segel have within them. If only Sex Tape were as good as their sex tape.