Given that sex videos have launched glittering careers like those of Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian, and with so many regular citizens apparently making and posting them, a film like Sex Tape seems like a no-brainer. And it is, although perhaps not in the way the filmmakers intended.
Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel star as Annie and Jay, who meet in college and are consumed by ferocious, uncontrollable lust for each other — until, of course, the kids come along. Ten years later, their sex life has abated and the couple, who are still in love, struggle to re-ignite the spark. Annie comes up with the idea of making a “sex tape” in which they demonstrate every position in the venerable book The Joy of Sex. But when the file is accidentally uploaded to the “cloud” and distributed among friends and acquaintances, hilarity theoretically ensues.
The first glitch in the screenplay by Kate Angelo, Segel and Nicholas Stoller is that the term “sex tape” itself is a misnomer: the video is a digital file, filmed on Jay’s iPad and accidentally uploaded via an app he uses called “Franken-synch.” This somehow sends the file to a vast collection of iPads that Jay inexplicably collects and gives out as gifts — the script’s second error, since we’re unable to understand how Jay makes enough money from his job in a radio station to buy up stacks of these things. But even with all that, the first half hour or so of Sex Tape is kind of endearing — the evolution of Annie and Jay’s physical relationship from non-stop fornication to half-hearted appointment sex contains at least a kernel of truth and some chuckles for anyone who’s a parent and has tried to keep the flickering candle of their own love life alive.
Once the video is uploaded, however, Sex Tape quickly exhausts itself, its one-joke premise stretched to a thin thread that barely keeps the film going. Annie and Jay embark on a mad, all-night chase to retrieve all the iPads they gave out, starting with fellow couple Rob Corddry and Ellie Kemper, whose characters are so non-existent that I don’t even recall their names. The film loses most of the charm it had at this point, although one sequence — at the palatial home of a toy company CEO who wants to buy Annie’s popular mommy blog — ekes out a few solid laughs thanks to Rob Lowe’s bonkers and self-deprecating performance as the CEO, who has some secrets of his own.
The rest of what little plot there is goes rapidly downhill after we leave Lowe behind, ending up at the headquarters of an online porn site where a smarmy cameo awaits. Sex Tape even has two more endings after that, making the film’s 90-minute running time seem closer to the three hours that Annie and Jay’s video supposedly runs. There’s even a treacly message about “family” thrown in, which points up the haphazard nature of both the script and the direction by Jake Kasdan, who reunites here with Segel and Diaz after pointing the camera at them in Bad Teacher. Despite plenty of f-bombs and some fleeting and non-frontal nudity by both actors, Sex Tape is never as raunchy as it wants you to think it is (we have to wonder if Apple, whose pervasive product placement makes them essentially a sponsor of the film, had any say in that).
Segel (looking far more gaunt here than ever before) and Diaz mug their way through the material: there’s nothing to play in terms of “acting” and they both know it, although the usually likable Segel comes across as more annoying and self-satisfied. Naturally, the two of them make one dumb decision after another, are seemingly oblivious about technology despite using it on an everyday basis (hell, Annie’s done well enough with her blog to entertain a huge offer for it), and find themselves in cringe-inducing situations like Segel’s pointless and even sadistic battle with a dog. Kasdan directs all this nonsense with no particular flair; like a lot of directors working the comedy beat these days, he seems content to just set up the camera in the general direction of his actors and hope that they get something usable.
Someone could probably make a truly racy movie around a couple creating their own amateur porn video, but this isn’t it. The potential of the idea, especially in a day and age when so much of our private lives can easily go public with or without our consent, is willfully and disappointingly left unexplored. Thankfully not as long or loud as some other bloated comedies I’ve seen recently, Sex Tape earns just enough good will from its first third to make the rest of it somewhat bearable. But that’s hardly what I want from sex itself, let alone a movie about it.
Sex Tape is out in theaters Friday, July 18.