By Simon Miraudo
August 7, 2014
Sex Tape tells the harrowing story of a man with such wanton disregard for his family’s financial well-being he regularly buys two iPads at a time and re-gifts the newly-obsolete models to acquaintances. There is also a subplot about the man and his wife frantically scrambling to erase their hastily-filmed porno from all those iPads they’ve dispersed, but that’s by the by. Director Jake Kasdan indicts the frivolously materialistic American upper-middle class by setting his rage-inspiring polemic in some near-future dystopia, where everyone is a real piece of s***, including the children. (Especially the children.) Perhaps it takes place days before the next financial collapse, or, more likely, in the lead up to the very first Purge.
Kasdan’s boldest choice is agreeing to let the studio market it as a comedy; to fool unwitting civilians into watching it on a lazy Friday night and then confronting them with a scenario so enraging and so profoundly unfunny it might inspire riots and encourage the dismantling of our social infrastructure. I mean, I assume this is Kasdan’s intention. It’s certainly the effect. No one could craft something this infuriating accidentally, right? A sex romp that manages to make the most human of romantic interactions appear hugely unpleasant? A farce that doesn’t use, say, The Lady Eve, The 40-Year-Old Virgin or even Carry On Camping as its benchmarks, instead only hoping to out-funny the pictures of Andrei Tarkovsky, that video Werner Herzog won’t let us see, and the concept of famine? Because that sounds unbearable.
Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz play the central couple, bravely shielding their innate charisma and staunchly refusing to ignite any cinematic spark, lest audiences be distracted from the movie’s central thesis. Segel’s Jay works as a music engineer, and Diaz’s Annie is a mommy blogger about to sell her site for beaucoup bucks; further fuel for the inevitable audience rage. Missing the days when they would jump into bed if the breeze struck them right, they ship their two kids off to grandma’s for the evening and agree to make a sex tape; one in which they’ll re-enact every move from the Kama Sutra, no matter how acrobatic. When the deed is done, they fall asleep in a euphoric daze, while their masterpiece automatically uploads to the cloud, and consequently, the iPads of everyone they’ve ever met, because that’s who they gave iPads too, these A-holes.
So begins a late-night quest to recover all those loose tablets; a perilous journey into the heart of… okay, I will accept there is a chance this is not precisely the modern-day equivalent of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, and just a terribly-made, tone-deaf comedy with more depressing sex montages than Nymphomaniac. It’s only hope for notoriety – in lieu of, you know, jokes – is a parade of sex scenes, and yet, it can barely call itself raunchy. Sure, Diaz is endearingly game to strip down and get into positions Jerry Seinfeld would caution against (like in that episode where his nymphet girlfriend proudly opened pickle jars and sneezed in the buff). In contrast, while Jason Segel unsheathed himself countless times in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Kasdan repeated the trick by having a pantsless gent wander around in his genius biopic spoof Walk Hard, Sex Tape is entirely D-free. In 2014, this is like trying to cause a stir on the beach with a bare shoulder.
Sex Tape has, to its credit, an appealing cast of supporting actors, deployed for one scene (or one quip) a piece, though the only one who gets a showcase at all is Rob Lowe, playing the potential buyer of Annie’s site and another random iPad recipient. Jay and Annie descend on his mansion to steal it back, discovering in the process he’s a family-values kind of guy who… pause for hilarious effect … enjoys cocaine and hip-hop. Lowe, always down for whatever, is a reliable screen weirdo, but if anyone out there understands fully what is going on in his scenes I’d think they were on the same gear as he.
There is actually a novel American farce to be made here: rather than Jay and Annie being merely married shrews who’d let the clock run out on their libidos, they could have been secret kinks who hide behind a sunny suburban demeanour. If their tape leaked, they could sneak into the homes of their friends and neighbours to maintain their chaste reputation, and discover, behind closed doors, everyone else is into super-freaky stuff too. Instead, Sex Tape is happy to ride the village bicycle down the middle of the road, where countless films before it have trod. In Kate Angelo’s script, the biggest conflict comes between Segel and Lowe’s guard dog, as if Father of the Bride didn’t do the exact same thing literally twenty-three years ago. (Maybe this came from Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller‘s later draft of the screenplay, in which the iPad conceit is introduced. Or possibly the three of them co-conceived it with Kasdan. Failure truly is a team effort.) I normally don’t like to offer suggestions for how a feature should have been made; that’s not the critic’s role. I prefer to leave that to the professionals. The thing is, I looked up and down the credits, and I couldn’t find any. In fairness, sex tapes make amateurs out of everybody.
Sex Tape is now showing in cinemas.