Jake Kasdan’s Sex Tape isn’t a good movie by any stretch, but it also isn’t inherently unfair to its audience. The jokes are funny more often than not despite the film not making a lick of sense, and the editing is so terrible that it feels like it was made thinking that a longer unrated cut would kill on Blu-Ray instead of in theatres. It’s not so much a movie, but a collection of random, wonky skits that haven’t been workshoped enough to full work. It does precisely what it needs to do – make people laugh – and throws up its hands and shrugs when questioned about anything else that would make a good movie.
Jay (Jason Segel) and Annie (Cameron Diaz) have been lustful sweethearts since college. They grew up, got pregnant, got married, got pregnant again, and ever since then their once smokin’ hot sex lives have been put on hold. When Annie lands a potentially big boon to her writing career as a mommy blogger, she decides that they should celebrate by having her mother watch the kids while she and Jay get their freak on. Only for some reason, with the spontaneity gone, there’s no spark to the sex no matter what they try. Annie suggests that they make a sex tape by doing a fake educational video where they try to teach every position in The Joy of Sex. They get drunk, they bump uglies through the night, and regret kicks in the next day. Then some time later through and almost painfully ludicrous twist of events, the video ends up in the hands of several people who they don’t want to see it.
It’s hard to tell if starting with the positives or the negatives would make more sense. So let’s start by praising the two leads. Segel and Diaz rekindle the underused chemistry they had in Kasdan’s last directorial outing, Bad Teacher, and they make the most of it. Jay and Annie might be goofs, but they’re likable goofs. Their relationship always feels like a loving and well cultivated one even if that doesn’t show through in the script or direction. They have such a natural give and take that they save the film from being a disaster. Anyone other than these two leads and the results would have been abysmal, but Segal sells the material perfectly and Diaz once again proves that when it comes to being a female lead in a raunchy comedy, she’s virtually untouchable. The little moments that they have together just riffing on whatever situation they find themselves in are often the high comedic points of the film.
Segel should know how to sell the material because he co-wrote the screenplay alongside frequent collaborator Nicholas Stoller and veteran TV writer Kate Angelo. Unfortunately, the script might be the usually smart and perceptive Segel’s most boneheaded effort to date. In terms of pacing, story, characters, timing, and overall arc, it’s barely up to the level of the kind of films made in the late 90s for Saturday Night Live alums. The core conceit is far too stupid to be believed and is predicated on Jay and Annie being thinly drawn imbeciles, when clearly their wit would suggest they aren’t that stupid.
Jay does something involving music. That’s literally all that we know about him. Aside from hanging out with a friend played by Nat Faxon (who sadly only shows up in one scene, yet somehow gets fifth billing) in a radio station we never know just what his purpose in life is. All we know is that his assistant brings him two iPads at a time and that he does something with them and then he’ll trade them in for two new ones relatively quickly. So he just gives those used iPads away because… well, I really don’t know why he needs that many in the first place so why would I care why he gives them away?
Because apparently he has some master synching program that has managed to leak his bedroom activity only to people who have gifted iPads because he can just synch things through “the cloud” or something like that. I have literally no clue how this kind of disregard for how technology actually works (and late film stabs at trying to retcon the ignorance make things even worse), but it leads to a questing plot that sees Jay and Annie joined by their best friends Rob (Rob Corddry) and Tess (Ellie Kemper) who think helping their buds would be a great way to spend their twelfth anniversary.
By the time the film concludes its first of three completely different thirds, it becomes apparent that somewhere along the way a lot of this film ended up on the editing floor or in the wastebasket of the writers’ room. It’s too choppy to have been actually conceived this way, and no one would look at this final product in this condition and say this was something filmable. Vital transitions are missing and context looks to have been replaced by convenient lines of dialogue designed to be expository means to very little ends or gains.
The film might run a trim and even 90 minutes – about the right length for such lightweight silliness – but it seems like the 30 minutes that explains who these people are in relation to one another, and more importantly the film’s core reason for being, have disappeared. And yet, the results here are so slapdash that I could hardly tell where that missing footage would have come from.
The clearest evidence that Sex Tape has no clue where to go is in the middle section, which amounts to a single sketch involving getting an iPad from a supporting character that will never be heard from again. I can see why this section flows better than the rest of the film and remains intact because it’s inarguably the best part of the film. The minor character is played by Rob Lowe, essentially doing his “blissfully ignorant and incongruous” shtick from Parks and Recreation but still managing to be the MVP of the whole film. He plays the rich guy who wants to buy Annie’s mommy blog and make it a part of his wholesome brand. Without spoiling the funniest section of the film, the guy isn’t the do-gooder he appears to be, Annie has to try to make nice with him with a straight face, while Jay searches the house for the iPad and trying not to be killed by a giant German Sheppard. It’s essentially if the Farrelly Brothers remade the final ten minutes of Boogie Nights with Lowe in the Alfred Molina role, but it works wonders and makes one forget how dumb this plot is. The film as a whole is so misshapen anyway that this would actually work as a short film on its own away from the whole product and no one would probably be able to tell the difference.
But while this is happening, Rob and Tess just wait in the car until their cue hits, they get their funniest moment of the film, and then everything just moves on after spending twenty minutes of an already short film in the same place. The film just suddenly gives up the quest, comes up with a way for them to stop running around, and out of nowhere turns into a film where Rob’s asshole of a fifth grade son (nicely played by Harrison Holzer) decides he wants to blackmail Rob for cash or he’ll put the film on the internet. It’s a plot development that’s teased in a pretty half-assed fashion early on, but one that makes less sense than the whole “cloud” thingamajig that the rest of the film hinged on. Even worse, it’s rushed, even more illogical, and a lot less funny. Not even a well intentioned cameo can save the last thirty minutes because it feels like an entirely different movie that’s wrapping up another film that never arrived in the first place.
This sloppiness also marred Kasdan’s Bad Teacher, but not nearly to the degree where it could be seen as a bad film. Kasdan is a smart comedic filmmaker who was also responsible for Walk Hard, Orange County, and Zero Effect. He should know how to pull this material off, especially with a script that Segel had a hand in, but something holds him back here. For the life of me I can’t really figure out what exactly could have gone wrong. Was this rushed into production? Was there studio interference? Was it like Anchorman where the script was thrown out the window and the cast just riffed their way through everything to uneven ends? I have no idea, but at least I can see an effort being made to make a good movie on some level. He’s giving his leads enough room to create a believable relationship in a bad movie, he knows his way around a set piece nicely, he seems to have left the best jokes in the film (including some great sight gags and subtle running jokes), and he also doesn’t take the material seriously even on a comedic level.
So can I recommend Sex Tape? Probably not overall, but I will let it be known that I did laugh a lot for the first hour. I want to say this is a good film, but it really isn’t. It’s one of those films where had I paid money to watch it I wouldn’t feel swindled, but I wouldn’t have been thrilled. It’s a shame there’s a better movie in here waiting to get out, though.