I can report that it enraptured and delighted, and most importantly, made quiet, the houseful of little kids and their nannies with which I watched…
Three years ago, Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel co-starred for director Jake Kasdan in "Bad Teacher" and had an enjoyable, raunchy chemistry. She was the bad teacher of the film’s title: a drunken vixen who was only working with children because she needed money for a boob job. He was the irreverent, easygoing gym teacher who saw through her flaws and schemes and wanted to hang out with her anyway. It was a one-joke movie, but there were enough shadings and variations within that one joke to make it somewhat fun.
Now, Diaz and Segel co-star for Kasdan again in “Sex Tape,” but their characters are so indiscernible as actual human beings, it’s hard to tell who they are, much less whether they have any sort of enjoyable, raunchy chemistry. She’s a married, stay-at-home mother of two who writes a blog about her family, and that’s about it. He’s her husband, who works at a radio station in some capacity, maybe...? They make a sex tape to spice up their formerly frisky marriage and it accidentally goes public. It’s a one-joke movie that feels like a one-joke movie.
It’s a high-concept premise that ends up being preposterous and riddled with plot holes, and the way these fools fling themselves into an all-night, madcap adventure to right their wrong is painfully strained and unfunny. Also, the whole notion of making a sex tape and then being ashamed of it seems sort of quaint at this point—as if everyone involved missed the zeitgeist for maximum relevance and edginess about five years ago.
High-tech devices to create quality, do-it-yourself cinema surround us more than ever, as we well know. Nowhere is this more true than in “Sex Tape,” which is essentially one long commercial for Apple products wrapped in a toothless, feel-good comedy about a longtime married couple reconnecting. It’s amazing, the quality of the camera on the iPad that’s propped securely on top of the laundry basket as Diaz’s Annie and Segel’s Jay re-enact every single pose in the iconic ‘70s tome "The Joy of Sex." And wow—the Cloud! It’s so powerful as it sucks in every last blip of digital information in ways no one could possibly understand (including the people who made this movie).
Things were simpler back when Annie and Jay were young. We first meet the couple in college, cavorting like bunny rabbits anywhere and everywhere. This is their primary personality trait: They like having sex with each other. Or at least, they did. Cut to 10 years later (which would make Diaz 32 when she’s actually almost 42, which I know because we have the same exact birthday, but whatever, it’s a minor distraction). They still love and desire each other, but between work, kids, school, house, etc., they just don’t have the same time or energy to maul each other the way they once did. It happens.
When Annie sends the kids to Grandma’s house for the night, she and Jay try to use the opportunity to get their freak on, but they initially fumble. A few tequila shots later, though, and they’re starring in their own homemade porn video. Diaz and Segel get super naked and seem game for every goofy move that comes their way, but there’s something stiff (if you’ll pardon the pun) about the way Kasdan stages these scenes and about Segel’s performance in general. He’s noticeably slimmed down and toned up since he famously went full-frontal in 2008’s "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." But he also seems to have lost the loose, amiable puppy-dog quality that made him so appealing. He’s so oddly inert here, it’s as if he’s been encased in wax.
Jay promises he’ll erase the video, but not only does he forget to do that, he also inadvertently sends it to a bunch of people through a new syncing app. In one of the many contrived plot devices that keep this effort rumbling along, Jay has a habit of giving old iPads to friends and relatives as gifts. So now all these people have access to their antics, which lasted three hours. ("Sex Tape" itself feels that long, even though it’s only about 90 minutes.)
The script from Segel, his longtime friend and collaborator Nicholas Stoller and Kate Angelo ("The Back-Up Plan") finds Annie and Jay scurrying all over Los Angeles to scoop up these tablets before anyone sees the movie. Well, anyone else, that is—at least one person has seen it and is sending Jay anonymous, cryptic texts in a subplot that feels forced. Jay keeps making bad decisions, Annie keeps getting annoyed with him. Rob Corddry and Ellie Kemper, who play the couple’s best friends, go along for the ride but mostly go to waste.
The whole process is extremely tedious, but one of their stops—which amounts to an extended detour—is so random and unexpected that it breathes much-needed life into the film. Annie and Jay visit the lavish mansion of Hank Rosenbaum (Rob Lowe), the cardigan-wearing CEO of the family-friendly company that’s on the verge of paying big money for Annie’s blog. (Another detail that seems distractingly impossible.) Inexplicably, Annie has given Hank her iPad, so she has to knock on his door and distract him while Jay searches for the device.
The casting of Lowe, who notoriously suffered his own sex-tape scandal in the late 1980s, at first seems like an in-joke that’s too easy. But the more his character reveals himself—and a complexity that’s sadly lacking in everyone else—the more you realize how cleverly it taps into Lowe’s longtime chops as a standout supporting player.
I won’t give away what happens between Diaz and Lowe, but I will say that this is the actor with whom she has real chemistry—and this is the shocking video you’ll really want to see.
A review of Netflix's new series, Lemony Snicket's "A Series of Unfortunate Events," which premieres January 13.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
The RogerEbert.com staff picks for the Oscars.
Our resident awards expert predicts who will go home with an Oscar on Sunday night.