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'Sex Tape': Film Review

7:30 PM PDT 7/15/2014 by Todd McCarthy

The Bottom Line

Sexcruciating

Opens

July 18 (Sony)

Cast

Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Rob Lowe

Director

Jake Kasdan

Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel can't save this ineptly directed, preposterously plotted raunchfest.

Sex Tape is sexcruciating. This high-concept, low-brow comedy about a couple whose homemade sex video threatens to get out there for the world to see is mostly about what's below the belt, but also seems to want to be family-friendly in a perverse sort of way. The film's one-joke nature makes it an easy sell for Sony, but director Jake Kasdan never finds the right tone or, um, rhythm for an intimate encounter you increasingly wish could just be a quickie.

Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel have previously proven that they're game for just about anything that even remotely qualifies for an R rating. And so they do again here, beginning with the hyperactive prologue, which catalogs the vigorous and abundant sex life that Annie and Jay had prior to having kids. Then comes the $64,000 question, posed by Annie: "How the hell do you get it back?"

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The answer, according to the thoroughly preposterous and structurally patchy script by Kate Angelo, Segel and Nicholas Stoller, is to star in your own porn video. The couple decides it's to be a literary adaptation, an unabridged rendition of The Joy of Sex featuring every position described therein — though all the camera angles featured in the excerpts shown make you wonder who the operator was.

Becoming film stars for a night has the desired effect on their libidos, but the next day Jay discovers that he's made a big boo-boo: Instead of erasing the fruits of their labors, as Annie has requested, he seems to have mistakenly pushed a button on his iPad that's sent it up to "the cloud." This will supposedly enable everyone to watch it, beginning with their friends, who, in ludicrous plot contrivance No. 1, have been the recipients of his used iPads. The panicked couple now endeavors to retrieve the devices before it's too late, even as one text anonymously arrives suggesting someone has already seen it.

The technological aspects of this setup have already been attacked as bogus by those who claim to know about such things. Should one of these experts have shown up at the couple's door at this point, the film could have ended there and we would have already seen all the juicy stuff.

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But no such luck. Instead, a staggeringly awful second act ensues in which Jay and Annie embark upon a ridiculous nocturnal tour of what looks like Bel Air under the guise of gathering donations. What they're actually doing is trying to prevent the boss of a squeaky-clean toy company, which may pay big bucks for Annie's mothering blog, from stumbling across the tape on the iPad she's given him. A different man when he's home alone with his family away than he is at the office, Hank (Rob Lowe) quite absurdly gets Annie high on cocaine while Jay snoops around the house looking for the device, all the while pursued by a ferocious German Shepherd in some of the most continuity-challenged scenes in a mainstream film in recent memory.

In the end, however, Annie and Jay realize that their handiwork isn't up in a cloud somewhere but in an anonymous warehouse out in the San Fernando Valley. The impresario of said establishment, which specializes in disseminating homemade porn, is played with relish by an uncredited Jack Black, and while he's hobbled by the material here, his appearance underlines the fact that Black has mostly vanished from the big screen since his great performance in Bernie three years ago. It's high time for him to come back.

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The film's milieu bespeaks the same privileged, west-of-the-405 mindset that figures in Judd Apatow's work, with much the same jargon and worldview but with far fewer laughs. Noticeably slimmed down from when he first bared all in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Segel nonetheless overstays his welcome, appearing again in the buff; one hopes he'll quickly find other frontiers to explore. Diaz also shows some skin, albeit a bit less, and her go-with-the-flow spirit is fundamentally agreeable. Still, the script basically asks just two registers from her, anger and over-the-top enthusiasm, and the film's broadness eventually makes both modes tiresome.

The castmember who comes off best is teenager Harrison Holzer, who plays Jay's best friend's son, a tubby, arrogant bully of enormous presumption, who attempts to blackmail Jay into paying an outrageous amount to remove the footage from the cloud launchpad. His character makes one ponder the possibilities for a great modern horror film centered on overprivileged West Side teens. This is Sixteen, anyone?

Production: Columbia Pictures, Escape Artists
Cast: Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Rob Corddry, Ellie Kemper, Rob Lowe,
Nat Faxon, Nancy Lenehan, Giselle Eisenberg, Harrison Holzer
Director: Jake Kasdan
Screenwriters: Kate Angelo, Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller
Producers: Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Steve Tisch
Executive producers: David Householter, Jason Segel, Jake Kasdan,
David Bloomfield, Ben Waisbren
Director of photography: Tim Suhrstedt
Production designer: Jefferson Sage
Costume designer: Debra McGuire
Editors: Tara Timpone, Steve Edwards
Music: Michael Andrews

Rated R, 94 minutes