One would think that a movie entitled “Sex Tape” wouldn’t have a problem being raunchy. Sadly, director Jake Kasdan‘s latest picture can’t seem to find the balance between a sweet relationship and salty dialogue, and mostly goes with the former at the expense of the latter. Even more baffling is why the movie constantly feels the need to justify its premise as it reiterates plot points, character decisions, and the technological chicanery involved in the story’s inciting event. There’s always more emphasis on explaining what’s going on instead of going all the way.
In a belabored fit of exposition, mommy blogger Annie (Cameron Diaz) explains to her readers (and us) that she and her husband Jay (Jason Segel) used to have sex all the time, but they no longer have the time because of the demands of work and family. Looking to rekindle the spark in their marriage, Annie and Jay decide to use an iPad to record themselves having sex. However, the iPad has an app that syncs its files to other devices including the old iPads Jay gave away as gifts. When the couple discovers what’s happened, they make a mad dash to recover the iPads before they’re seen by family, friends Robby (Rob Corddry) and Tess (Ellie Kemper), and Piper Bros. CEO Hank (Rob Lowe), who is considering buying Annie’s blog for his wholesome company.
Kasdan has never shied away from coarse humor in his previous features, and it’s surprising that he chooses to do so here. There’s not a single line in Sex Tape that’s as delightfully foul-mouthed as Cameron Diaz’ line from Bad Teacher where she confidently strides into a room and tells her fiancée, “I’m going to suck your dick like I’m mad at it.” If anything, Sex Tape seems to have been softened considerably in the editing room. In one of the red-band trailers, Annie tells Jay, “This is our friends and family watching me teabag the shit out of your balls for half an hour!” That line isn’t in the movie. Instead, we get Annie telling Jay, “I love fucking you,” and him replying, “I fucking love you.” It’s nice, but Sex Tape proves that the impact of the word “fuck” has greatly diminished over the years.
If Sex Tape were a bit more daring in its dialogue and jokes, it would make the extended scenes more manageable. A large chunk of the film is devoted to Annie trying to distract Hank while Jay searches Hank’s house, but instead has to spend the entire time running from Hank’s dog. Slapstick is fine for a while, but the best jokes in the sequence are sight gags of the odd paintings in Hank’s house. It’s like they came out of a weirder, funnier movie.
But Sex Tape is usually shying away from these opportunities. Lowe is fine as Hank, but I couldn’t help but wonder if the role would be funnier if played by someone who truly has a wholesome image rather than just giving Lowe a nice hairstyle and glasses. And in retrospect, I wonder if Lowe was cast because he had a sex tape that leaked in late 1980s, but the movie never references the scandal, and I imagine that audience members in their 20s probably wouldn’t know about it anyway.
The movie is always playing it safe to an extent that’s downright bizarre. Diaz and Segel keep the film cute and get little chuckles along the way, but the script is always passing by obvious moments where Sex Tape could get really fun and creative. At one point, a character provides a litany of porn websites, which seems like a great chance to go wild with ridiculous names. Instead, we get actual porn sites like “YouPorn” and “RedTube”, so it comes off like a marketing tie-in. It’s a unique marketing opportunity, but did anyone think that plugging a bunch of porn sites was comedy gold?
There’s almost something quaint in Sex Tape in how it thinks it’s being aggressive in its comedy. Even the title is a misnomer since it’s actually a video file rather than a “tape”. Perhaps in a different time and under different circumstance, Sex Tape would feel cutting edge in its comedy. Unfortunately, all we have is a dull and flavorless story about a couple trying to add some spice to their cutesy relationship.