With Jason Segel, Cameron Diaz, Rob Corddry, Ellie Kemper, Rob Lowe. Written by Kate Angelo and Jason Segel & Nicholas Stoller. Directed by Jake Kasdan. Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some drug use. 94 minutes.
It tells you something about SEX TAPE that a cameo by Jack Black brings a moment of satire and subtlety that the rest of the film could have desperately used. Of course, referring to a digital recording as a “tape” already indicates that the people behind the film are woefully out-of-touch. It’s a smutty joke that isn’t especially funny.
Annie (Cameron Diaz) and Jay (Jason Segel) are married with two kids. Annie writes a blog about being a mother and in the film’s prologue, she remembers the wild sex they used to have and how dull their lives are now. To spice things up, they decide to make their own explicit sex video using the new tablet Jay has gotten. The film’s contrivance is that he’s constantly upgrading his computer hardware and giving his old equipment to friends and family, yet keeping them all linked. See, he’s got some unspecified job in the music business and everyone enjoys having his playlist. If you buy that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn that can be yours for just pennies on the dollar.
Going into the film, you already know what happens next. They make the video, he doesn’t erase it, and suddenly everyone who has one of his old tablets has access to it. Thus begins the supposedly hilarious adventures as they run around trying to get the tablets back. (For those of you savvy enough to know there’s an easier solution, the film finally acknowledges it late in the story.)
Their friends Robby (Rob Corddry) and Tess (Ellie Kemper) are sympathetic, but want to see the video for themselves. In a long sequence, Hank (Rob Lowe), the head of the company that wants to acquire Annie’s blog, seems to be coming onto her while Jay is being chased through the house by a German shepherd. No, it makes no sense. The characters are on drugs, although Lowe has professed sobriety since his own hard partying days. Perhaps the filmmakers were as well. It would explain why they thought this was funny.
By the time Black shows up as the operator of a porn website where the video has supposedly been uploaded, you may be wondering how low the film can sink, but it turns out to be the best scene of the film. It’s not enough to redeem the whole movie, though, and the film still has a ways to go after that. While Segel and Diaz cavort in the buff and get to use R-rated language, it’s not very exciting or even entertaining. For a movie that so desperately wants to be fun, that’s deadly.
In fact, at times the film seems more like a commercial for a particular brand of tablet–not to be given any free publicity here–and all the features it has. There are also plugs for particular software, a real-life porn website, and a classic sex manual. Did the producers sell off product placement rights to raise money for the film, or were they hoping to get something else in exchange for what amounts to free advertising?
In short, “Sex Tape” is not unlike the porn videos that inspired it: with bad acting and a flimsy script it may temporarily satisfy but will soon be quickly forgotten.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.