If you come away with anything from this review, it should be this: SEX TAPE is an absolute mess of a movie. An absolute mess.
Get it? Got it? Good. Now on to the specifics.
SEX TAPE is an entry in several subgenres of film: the “sex comedy that’s terrified of sex” genre, the “aren’t married people just the worst and super boring” genre, the “technology is basically impossible to understand magic, right?” genre, and the “everyone learns a lesson that papers over the problems and everything is great forever” genre. It feels like several first drafts of other movies stitched together for your viewing “pleasure.”
Plotwise, the story begins back in the college days of Annie (Cameron Diaz) and Jay (Jason Segel) as narrated by current Annie via her “mommy blog”—it’s called that in the movie, I’m not editorializing here. She lays out the story of their early college courtship that is rather erection centric.
From there, we flash forward 9 or 10 years to present day married Annie and Jay. They have two kids, a son about to leave 4th grade so around 8 or 9 and a daughter who is probably about to leave preschool. The family seems fairly happy and work well as a team. Jay has a great job at a radio station that apparently provides him with two new iPads frequently enough that he’s had to give the old ones away at such a rate that even his mailman is the lucky recipient of one as a gift. Presumably if Jay kept them, there would be no room to leave in their spacious home. Annie is a stay-at-home mom/blogger who is on the edge of selling her blog to a toy store company. They are upper middle class with ease, it seems. Not so bad for a couple of kids who got pregnant while they were still in college.
The one problem is, since they are a married couple, they never have sex. Never. Like parents with a newborn never, despite them not having a newborn. Desperate times lead to roller skates, booze, and then, eventually, a sex video on the iPad. Of course, inevitably, the video ends up on “the Cloud” and because of Jay’s fetishistic need to keep the iPads he gives as gifts slaved to each other and all his future iPads, all of their friends, family, and civil servants might be able to watch it, if they happen to end up in whatever folder it was uploaded to.
What follows is about 50 minutes of frantic plot that is wildly unnecessary if either Jay knew anything about the technology he apparently works with daily or Jay and Annie could just be mildly honest and call their friends and family and say, “Hey, made a mistake on those iPads. Can you bring them by in the next couple of days so we can clean them up a bit?” And by frantic, I mean simulated chaos without any true narrative drive. The plot meanders and changes mission, often without explanation
The performances here are not bad and some are good. Rob Lowe, in particular, as the President of the company that may be buying Annie’s blog is delightfully odd in a way that never goes off the rails. Segel and Diaz don’t have red hot sexual chemistry which makes the early scenes of them not land (in addition to them obviously being too old for college) but works nicely for a comfortable couple who obviously enjoy one another as friends as well as spouses. Rob Cordry and Ellie Kemper play their couple best friends with a nice sense of mischief and a lack of angst about their long-term commitment.
Bottom line is that this is a badly made movie that only works, if it works at all, on the backs of its performers. It is so bizarrely squeamish and childish about sex that even its liberal use of “fuck” and its derivatives cannot cover up the fact that it cannot bring itself to depict a genuine or genuinely funny moment involving sex between the two leads. The plot does not so much unfold as it oozes to its inevitable conclusion. But hey, at least it is short.
If you insist on seeing this movie, here’s a lightning round of things to watch for that really got under my skin:
1.) Neither Segel (at 34) or Diaz (at 42) can pass as college students now. Don’t get me wrong, they are both attractive, fit people and normally I don’t much care if actors play themselves in flashback during a different era of their life (see: John Cusack playing 16-30/40-something in HIGH FIDELITY) but this movie dwells so much on it that it is impossible to ignore. There is, in fact, an entire conversation about how young they are as they contemplate marriage. Theoretically, this could be commentary on this sort of thing; dialogue as a meta-joke, if you will. But jokes should be funny and even in the wildly charitable audience I saw this movie with, not one person seemed to be in on the joke.
2.) At least one other moment, like the “we’re so young” discussion mentioned above, that I have to believe was intended to be a joke but the film utterly fails to sell. It concerns the names of Rob Lowe’s family members and it got not one laugh but I can’t figure out why it was there if it was not a joke.
3.) Annie and Jay have a fight at one point that seems to have no reason for occurring. Sex is important in marriage but their fight has nothing to do with their lack of physical intimacy and everything to do with nothing that the movie takes the time to depict. It’s maddening.
4.) What happened to Annie’s dad? He’s in the college flashback scenes but nowhere to be seen in the present day. Is there a version of this film in which we see his tragic death? Or did he just wander off for milk and never come back.
5.) Also abandoned is the characterization of Annie and Jay’s oldest child as a precocious kid who’s becoming, in the paralance of the picture, “an asshole.” They waste 5 minutes of screentime talking about it and then the kid never acts that way again. Why bother?
6.) All the tech stuff. Buying blogs and not understanding the Cloud and not getting how the internet works. If Annie and Jay were in their 60’s, this could work. Characters supposedly in their early 30’s though? Especially characters who work with computers all day? Not so likely.
7.) A character gives an iPad away to charity at one point. It is an iPad the character was specifically given to see a business presentation on. That character has never watched said presentation (as revealed in dialogue) and yet seems wholly unconcerned about it. This character is supposed to be a savvy business person.
8.) There is a cameo in this movie that would’ve played circa 2005, maybe. Now it is just highlights how unhip this movie is.
Avoid. Avoid. Avoid.
SEX TAPE opens wide on July 18th, runs 90 minutes, and is rated R.