As far as weird on-screen sexual scenarios go, Cameron Diaz has had her fair share. After all, she is the only actress in the history of the medium to have styled her hair with male ejaculate (“There’s Something About Mary“), been involved in some kind of weird old timey abortion (“Gangs of New York“) and, well, f*cked a car (“The Counselor“). So it’s not much of a surprise that she’d be involved in a movie like “Sex Tape,” a ribald comedy about a suburban couple (Jason Segel as her husband) who make a homemade porno and then promptly lose it—leading to a madcap scramble to retrieve the video, maintain their privacy, and continue a life of relative upper middle class normalcy. What is surprising, however, is how bland “Sex Tape” is. On the scale of on-screen Cameron Diaz sexual outrageousness, it’s pretty tepid.
“Sex Tape” starts out well enough, with Diaz narrating her sexual history with Segel—they were college sweethearts who spent an inordinate amount of time between the sheets (and in the stacks of the library, and in the car…). These sequences are pretty funny and only slightly creepy thanks to the “Curious Case of Benjamin Button“-style de-aging that seems to have been applied, giving them both an otherworldly shimmer. These days, Diaz explains, the level of intimacy has plummeted. The couple now has two kids and barely enough energy to enjoy a shower together, much less devote actual time to lovemaking. It turns out that the narration is part of a blog post Diaz has written (she’s a mommy blogger, natch) and that her blog is about to get acquired by a large conglomerate (run by a typically weird Rob Lowe).
Finding herself in a celebratory mood (and drunk on a lot of tequila), she suggests that she and Segel make a sex tape. They decide (and yes, this is, for some reason, a fairly significant plot point) to use the “Joy of Sex” as an inspiration, going through every single sexual position in the four-decade-old sex manual, which gives their sex tape a real awards season-scope (one characters jokes that, at 3 hours, it’s longer than “Lincoln.”). Naturally, Diaz demands that Segel erase the tape immediately. And in his groggy, hung-over stupor, the husband agrees.
But of course given that this is a wacky studio comedy, things go awry. Segel’s character is a DJ (or at least works in a radio station, it’s pretty unclear) and has a complicated, multi-iPad syncing situation with his music. He’s constantly getting new iPads and giving the old ones away as gifts, to pretty much anybody. But because of his new syncing software, their sex epic is distributed to everyone with one of those secondhand iPads. This leads to a frantic, all-night chase for the iPads (Rob Corddry and Ellie Kemper play a similarly bored couple that go along for the ride) and that’s pretty much the extent of the narrative. Apple certainly appreciates all the product-placement exposure too.
Some of the intentions behind “Sex Tape” are fairly admirable, with Diaz proving that she is one of the more gifted comediennes working today. It’s nice to see a studio comedy centered around a woman, and one that doesn’t make her the stick-in-the-mud or the comic foil; this is a woman who is fully dimensional and able to get into just as many crazy scenarios as her more oafish husband. Diaz has always possessed a live wire zaniness that has served her well in things like “Bad Teacher” (misappropriating that energy can result in misfires like “The Other Woman“) and it’s nice to see that she’s continuing to refine that spirit. Segel is quite good too in a more mature role, but sadly his new svelte physique takes away some of his oomph as a performer—seeing him nearly nude doesn’t have quite the same comedic punch. And the supporting cast is sprinkled with ace performances, including a third act cameo by a fairly sizable star playing a smarmy online porn impresario.
But try as it might, “Sex Tape” just can’t get it up. The movie believes that it’s much ruder than it is, revelling in everything from the word “fucking” to the fact that, unlike most Sony movies, it doesn’t take place in an alternate universe where Apple doesn’t exist. The premise of “Sex Tape,” devised originally by Kate Angelo and refined with the help of Segel and his frequent writing partner Nicholas Stoller, certainly has promise. If the narrative had been positioned in a slightly different way, it could have resembled something like “After Hours” or maybe “Adventures in Babysitting” – a seemingly impossible scenario, stretched out across an endless night, with increasing levels of danger or unpredictability. Sadly, everything about “Sex Tape” feels homogenized and, ultimately, safe – from the cuddly suburban setting to Tim Suhrstedt‘s TV-esque over-lit cinematography, there’s never any tension or much in the way of narrative drive. This is particularly true of an overlong sequence set at Lowe’s house, which indulges in drug consumption, a bloodthirsty German shepherd and a series of paintings that insert Lowe’s likeness into famous scenes from animated Disney films. Like everything else in “Sex Tape,” it might seem edgy, but it’s not.
At 100-minutes, the movie drags and drags until finally losing steam in the last act and then collapses into a pile of worn out platitudes, limp gross out gags and gooey sentiment, resulting in oddly philosophical dialogue like, “Maybe everybody has an eleven-inch dildo in their nightstand.” For a movie that tries so hard to be sour, it ends up being awfully saccharine. And that wouldn’t be much of a problem if everything about it, from the normally dependable Jake Kasdan‘s direction on down, weren’t also so slack. It would be lovely for Hollywood to tackle married relationships in a sexually frank and funny manner, exploring where technology fits in and reinforcing the notion that monogamy can also be sexy and exciting too. Unfortunately, “Sex Tape” isn’t that movie. [C]