Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Review: Sex Tape

by Patrick Bromley
Sex Tape is this year's worst Adam Sandler comedy that Adam Sandler didn't make.

Just a few years ago, making a raunchy R-rated comedy was something of a risk. The genre had gone out of fashion for a long time, only resurfacing with the success of Judd Apatow's empire and The Hangover series. And while PG-13 is still king at the box office, a string of R-rated comedies have proven the genre to be economically viable. It's still never a sure thing, though, and the rating can close as many doors or turn as many audiences off as it can attract them. For every Superbad, there is The Sitter; for every Ted, a Million Days to Die in the West.

All of this is to say that there are things about Sex Tape that seem risky. Having two big Hollywood stars play characters who film themselves fucking and subject themselves to total humiliation is a risk. Both stars get naked on camera. Once upon a time, we might be praising those involved with the movie for being brave and (literally) putting it all out there. But because R-rated comedies have become the norm -- a few have grossed over $100 million dollars this year alone -- a proposition like Sex Tape is less a risk and more of a calculation. Coupled with the fact that the movie takes every opportunity to back away from actually dealing with sex and you've got something named and packaged to sound edgy but which succeeds at being as mushy and bland as any Adam Sandler movie.

Everyone involved with Sex Tape seems so embarrassed. None of them more than me.
Jason Segel plays Jay, a music exec whose job consists of putting songs on iPads and then giving them away. He's married to Cameron Diaz's Annie, a mommy blogger who specializes in making typing faces and is about to sell her blog to a big company run by Rob Lowe. Because Jay and Annie have JOBS and KIDS, they just don't have TIME or ENERGY for SEX anymore! You know how it is!! One night, Annie sends the kids to her mom's house (you can't have SEX with KIDS in the house!) so she and Jay can have SEX and get back to those crazy days when they were YOUNG and had SEX ALL THE TIME! Things don't go well. They've forgotten how to have SEX! YOU KNOW HOW IT IS!! Then Annie has the great idea to FILM themselves having SEX, and it's JUST the thing they need! Once the iPad camera is going, they totally remember how to HAVE SEX!

Jay is supposed to erase the video immediately, but he doesn't (in the movie's only believable moment, a character decides to hang on to the video of himself having sex with Cameron Diaz) and then the video is uploaded to THE CLOUD and everyone who has received a FREE iPAD from Jay now has access to the video! The movie tries to explain how this happens. It's stupid, but at least they try.

So what are Jay and Annie to do? Freak out and run around all night trying to get back ALL THOSE iPADS! Sometimes, that means doing lines of coke with Rob Lowe. Sometimes it means punching a dog! Sometimes (most of the time) it means standing around arguing like assholes.
I'd love to make the argument that the very premise of Sex Tape is very stupid. That's because it is, but only this version of Sex Tape. There's a movie to be made about a couple that films themselves having sex and then regrets it. There's even a movie to be made about a couple trying to get back something they feel has been lost since growing up and having a family (it came out earlier this summer and is called Neighbors). Sex Tape isn't really interested in being either of those movies -- not when it can be a movie about wacky misunderstandings and running away from dogs and smashing into things and having sitcom conversations about sitcom problems in sitcom relationships. This is a movie that dares to reach for the middle and comes up pitifully short.

Sex Tape is one of the most sloppily constructed Hollywood movies in years -- badly edited, patched together with clumsy ADR, shot with the same flat, overly-lit approach that plagues most contemporary comedies. Entire scenes and subplots appear to be cut out. Dialogue was clearly changed in post-production, either to artificially advance the plot, bluntly state the "themes" (there are no themes) or try to create a laugh where there isn't one. That's surprising considering the film was directed by Jake Kasdan, who once made the great Zero Effect (one of my favorite movies of the '90s) and has now made a movie that looks exactly like it was directed by one of the hacks that make Adam Sandler comedies. I remarked at the start of summer that Sandler's Blended was one of the worst-made studio movies I'd seen in a long time. Sex Tape gives it a run for its shitty, incompetent money.
Bad filmmaking could be overlooked if the jokes were there. They aren't. Sometimes, the jokes fall flat. Sometimes they aren't jokes at all, just approximations of jokes (or what JB calls "comedy without humor"). When the movie stops for a second or two for the characters to have an honest human moment -- Segel or Diaz will say something that makes the other laugh, or there's a throwaway observation that actually rings true -- there exists the potential for comedy. I'll give the terrible script by Kate Angelo, Segel and Nicholas Stoller (the latter two having previously written the much, MUCH better Forgetting Sarah Marshall) credit for sometimes trying to find the human element in their story. It's not all pratfalls and blowjob jokes. That's one of the things that have made Segel and Stoller's previous collaborations work. But there is no real understanding of humanity here; only sitcom humanity. These are not relatable characters. They are wealthy and successful, have two perfect kids and a perfect family life (in one of the movie's most unintentionally hilarious scenes, the family panics about being late for a commitment but stops home to change clothes and prepare a full breakfast of bacon and eggs with zero sense of urgency). The big issue is that Jay and Annie aren't having sex five times a day like they used to. A fake problem is invented for the sake of fake conflict and a fake resolution. And none of it is funny.
It's not for lack of trying. Segel and Diaz both puke up blood trying to wring laughs from terrible material. They bug their eyes and flail and shout in the service of nothing, clowns hurling themselves on grenades in a circus with no audience. Their expressions on the poster say it all: broad, overacting and desperate there's one person who might not "get" it. I look at that poster and I feel terrible for both of those actors. Surely they know they're selling a piece of shit, right?

Leading up to the film's release (and subsequent tanking at the box office, having opened in fourth place and earned only $15 million in its first weekend), Cameron Diaz took the majority of the blowback for her participation. I get that she's an actress that rubs a lot of people the wrong way and that she tends to make a lot of bad movies these days, but the tenor of the criticism was especially off-putting -- it basically came down to "She's older (41) than Jason Segel (34)," which then became "She's too old to want to fuck." I don't remember the same number of hilarious jokes being tweeted when an older actor was cast opposite a younger actress in EVERY OTHER MOVIE EVER MADE. There's even another couple in Sex Tape played by Rob Corddry (43) and Ellie Kemper (34). I wonder how many jokes will be made about that on Twitter? Probably none, because that sort of thing is accepted as commonplace in movies. Also because no one is seeing Sex Tape.
But Diaz is not the problem with the movie. For better or worse, she gives it her all. The movie is very much being sold on her physical beauty, and she delivers on that front. The scene in which she and Rob Lowe start doing lines of cocaine is probably the funniest thing in the movie and a good indicator or where it should have gone -- taking the After Hours approach with a night that that gets progressively crazier and more debauched. Make the sex tape the tamest thing that happens. As it stands, the image of Diaz running jizz through her hair in There's Something About Mary is far funnier and more transgressive than anything in Sex Tape and that movie's more than 15 years old.

Jake Kasdan previously collaborated with both Diaz and Segel in Bad Teacher, a movie that has a reputation for being one of the "bad" movies to cash in on the R-rated comedy craze. As a fan of Bad Teacher, I take issue with that. It's a movie with a couple of good characters to which it really commits. It has funny performances, good jokes and a point of view. Sex Tape has none of these things.

When Adam Sandler makes a movie as incompetent and unfunny as Sex Tape, there's nothing surprising about it. This group should have known better.

20 comments:

  1. Speaking of Ms. Diaz, will anyone on the site be reviewing The Counselor? I don't think it works, even as a shaggy-dog story, in large part because of her character. Which isn't her fault; it's just a dull part that's hugely absurd without being at all entertaining or fun, apart from that one scene that comes out of nowhere (inside a flashback) and goes nowhere.

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    1. We talked about it a little on the Darkman podcast, but there probably won't be a full review on it unless one of us rewatches it and totally reassesses the movie. It is fascinating, isn't it? Not a success, but not quite a failure either.

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  2. Bummer - I thought this had a shot at being good. Why do so many "adult" comedies have to center around middle-age-ish couples struggling with their sex lives? How about a comedy about a loving, happy couple with great kids who, oh I don't know, need to do something wacky to make their mortgage payments or send their kid to college or something like that. I guess in Hollywood with all of their money and material wealth the only concern they have left is being sexy/having sex?

    That was one of the great things about Cheap Thrills (the last great comedy I've seen) - most of us have worried about where the rent was going to come from at some point in our lives or know that we'd go to great lengths to keep our families fed and sheltered - only teenagers think the biggest problem "grown ups" face is their shitty sex lives and I guess that's who movies like Sex Tape are made for. Adult men (and women) like us have to look elsewhere!

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  3. Good call on the Rob Lowe scene being a light bulb that this should have gone way darker. I thought the same thing. I think there's a good movie to be made out of this premise but it needs to go closer to War of the Roses than Click for it to work.

    P.S. I laughed so hard at the end when (SPOILER) Jason Segel just tossed off the line "and your mom sold her blog". It wasn't that they tied up that loose end but it was done in such a 'whatever' fashion.

    This movie's turrable

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  4. What happened to Jake Kasdan? His work on Freaks and Geeks (especially the pilot) was subtle, funny, warm hearted and wise.

    Patrick, would you say this film is equal to or worse than The Sweetest Thing (another "raunchy" Cameron Diaz vehicle)?

    This review cracks me up because you can tell Patrick wasn't just bored by this film, but extremely offended. And not in that cute way of "Aww, was this film too dirty for you?" Nope. More like he despises films that make the juggling of work and family feel like a chore yet treat it all as low brow comedy (i.e. American Reunion).

    Great review.

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    1. I really don't like The Sweetest Thing, so it's a toss-up. This movie feels incompetent and lazy, whereas TST is aggressively terrible. I almost applaud that effort.

      I can't stand the way marriage and adulthood are portrayed in most movies and television because it has not been my experience at all, nor the experience of most of the people around me. But garbage entertainment shapes the narrative that marriage is a sexless, miserable nightmare to the point where it has become the accepted wisdom. And that's bullshit.

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    2. But Patrick, a wife will get in the way of me watching "the big game" with "the guys". And if "the old ball and chain" lets me watch "the game" I'll have to go to "the ballet" with her.

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    3. Not if you marry the right woman.

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  5. "The movie is very much being sold on her physical beauty, and she delivers on that front." I respectfully disagree, Patrick. The last time she delivered on that was "The Mask". I just don't get it with her for some reason. She is an awful actress. I'm looking forward to seeing her desecrate the role of Miss Hannigan in the remake of "Annie"; if by some miracle she does a good job, I will make myself endure a viewing of any Diaz film of your choosing.

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    1. We can disagree on her appearance (I don't want the discussion to go that way anyway), but I would hold up her work in Vanilla Sky and Being John Malkovich and She's the One and Any Given Sunday and In Her Shoes and a few others of proof that she can give a good performance. I will absolutely concede that all of those are more than 10 years old and that she mostly makes garbage now. Sex Tape is evidence of that.

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    2. Right on. I totally agree about appearance being relative and it doesn't matter based on performance. I only commented on that because it appears that the filmmakers banked on that aspect of the movie "being sold on her physical beauty", which is insulting. It appears from your review though that the whole film is insulting to it's audience anyway, which I find all too common with the current crop of most comedies.

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    3. Seconded on Vanilla Sky. She is terrifying in that.

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    4. Don't forget There's Something About Mary!

      (Regarding movies in which Cameron Diaz gives a good performance, in my opinion)

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    5. Which is also in the 10+ years group, but she definitely used to be good. I wish she were good again.

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    6. Her choice of material, which used to be interesting and good, has gotten really terrible. Even when it is interesting these days -- like The Counselor -- she ends up being the weakest thing in it.

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    7. Am I the only one who didn't think she was that bad in The Counselor? She was miscast but I didn't think her performance was the worst.

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    8. Maybe I'm just responding to the miscasting. She felt out of place. I'm sure having to ADR her entire performance didn't help. She didn't embarrass herself, but she stands out from everyone else and not in the best way.

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  6. ^ Ah, yes, you guys did discuss The Counselor on the Darkman podcast. I'll have to listen to that one again. :)

    Regarding Diaz's character, which is a very awkward piece of writing to play, I was thinking that maybe the one thing that could have saved it is if she'd been incongruously, ludicrously young - like 20 or 21. (Not to be lecherous, but the car scene could have come across a lot less crazy, or rather equally crazy in a less dismaying way, if she'd still been in the wild child stage of life.) So maybe a The Mask-era Diaz could have totally rocked the part? Regardless, I think ending the movie on her character was a huge mistake. We get an amazing breakdown from Fassbender and then... more cocktails and silly chit-chat? That's what your going to leave us with?!

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