Note: this review will be featured on the Phoenix Film Festival’s website.
Sex Tape is mostly tame and harmless, a promising film with two likable comedians that fails to flourish in its second half. Modern comedies often attempt to tackle raunchy premises because quieter laughers usually go unnoticed in today’s landscape. A film about a sex tape is pretty much as loud of a concept as possible. For that reason, Sex Tape should be far funnier than it ends up being, mostly digressing into awkward conversations that depend on long pauses and physical humor that grows tiresome by the conclusion. Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz have both achieved success over the past decade in mainstream comedies; the former has Forgetting Sarah Marshall and I Love You, Man while the latter has Bad Teacher and The Other Woman. Yet here, their combination cannot seem to shape a coherently funny story. It’s simply that a shocking premise fails to produce laughs alone and needs a hilarious set of characters and jokes to accompany the plot.
The film centers on Annie (Cameron Diaz) and Jay (Jason Segel), a married couple with kids that misses the spontaneity of their earlier days. They no longer have sex like they used to, they are preoccupied with their jobs, and they can’t seem to balance their everyday life to make sure they find happiness. Their kids often remind them of their unrest, with their daughter jokingly asking Jay about the point of life only to follow it up by saying that him and mom are unhappy. Annie is caught up with selling her “mommy blog” to a company run by Hank Rosenbaum (Rob Lowe), and on her way home from a meeting decides to get a night alone with Jay. She sends the kids off with their grandmother while the married couple hopes to rekindle their passionate fire. But they fail and fail again, until Annie thinks of a seemingly ingenious idea: how about they film themselves having sex? They do it and, thanks to Jay’s music job that involves him syncing gifted iPads to his own to provide them with his playlists, the video goes out to their friends.
The rest of the film involves their exploits to erase the video from everyone’s devices. It mostly hinges on their ignorance to how technology works in today’s age. They fail to understand what a remote wipe is, how videos can be copied, and how videos are uploaded to servers. To nitpick the film’s thin premise is trivial, though, since Sex Tape doesn’t exist to provide a realistic plot. Instead, it aims to provide the audience with set pieces that embrace the absurdity of these characters and their actions. On that part, it delivers fairly well in the film’s first half. They visit their friends Robby (Rob Corddry) and Tess (Ellie Kemper) who are celebrating their 12th anniversary and join them on their adventures. This leads to Annie visiting Hank’s house, which might be the finest moment in the film. Rob Lowe’s performance is ridiculous and hilarious, a man with a very strange Disney obsession and a hankering for the days of old. More specifically, the days of recreational cocaine use.
The film is funniest, as most are, when its comedy gets specific and unique. The problem with most of the film is the broadness of the second half, with the vague exception of a strange comedic cameo in the final moments that provides an inconsistently amusing bit. The product placement grates on the material, too, with Apple playing a hefty role in many of the film’s scenes. But Segel and Diaz are talented, enjoyable comedians that make the most of the material. As it runs a bit thin in the set-up for their sexual frustrations, they bring out the humor in the strangeness of it all. The supporting cast is game and varied, with Corddry remaining one of the most consistently hard-working supporting actors in comedy today. Yet Jake Kasdan’s film cannot help but fall into the traditional traps of mediocre comedies: it fails to engage past its thin premise and falls flat in delivering a compelling story. It’s mostly weak in humor and sporadic with its jokes. Sex Tape is likable and somewhat amusing, but ultimately uneven and tepid in its laughs.
Grade: ★★½ (out of 5)