Mark Reviews Movies

Sex Tape

SEX TAPE

1  Stars (out of 4)

Director: Jake Kasdan

Cast: Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Rob Corddry, Ellie Kemper, Rob Lowe, Nancy Lenehan, Harrison Holzer, Giselle Eisenberg, Sebastian Hedges Thomas, Nat Faxon

MPAA Rating: R (for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some drug use)

Running Time: 1:30

Release Date: 7/18/14


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Review by Mark Dujsik | July 17, 2014

Repetition is one of the cornerstones of comedy, showing itself in various techniques and unspoken rules. There is the callback, in which a joke that had been previously made appears again later in the proceedings. There's the subtle variation or subversion of a gag we have seen or know well. We're aware that a banana peel on the ground, for example, is there to cause a character to slip. Perhaps the character doesn't, or perhaps he or she does at time we don't expect. Of course, there is the Rule of Three, in which something ceases to be funny after three iterations, although it can become funny again if it's repeated enough times.

Sex Tape is a comedy of repetition. The only problem with the movie is that the repetition does not come in the form of comedy. That "only," of course, is the comic technique of understatement, and the way the previous clause stated why the preceding sentence is supposed to be amusing is one of the great no-noes of humor. If a joke wasn't funny in the first place, explaining it is only going to make matters worse. The screenplay for this movie does a lot of explaining, and it keeps explaining the same things over and over and over.

We start to wonder if the movie is going to have time for jokes. The characters here seem unable to go five minutes without telling other characters what's happening in the movie and, hence, why all of these escapades are supposed to be funny.

It's not as if screenplay by Kate Angelo, Jason Segel, and Nicholas Stoller is that complicated, but even so, characters show up at new places and proceed to expound upon past events that we already have seen, that the characters know about, and that at least one character has previously described to another. They stop in the middle of scenes to discuss current plans that have already been explicated well enough. The screenplay constantly dumps established exposition into dialogue in a way befitting some story about an intricate conspiracy in which we and the characters need to be reminded of our bearings.

Look, this plot really is not difficult to comprehend. Annie (Cameron Diaz) and Jay (Segel) started dating in college and had sex often in the early part of their relationship (There is some eerie visual trickery that de-ages the actors by making them look like moving, talking wax models). Years have passed, and the now-married Annie and Jay have stopped having sex as frequently. They notice the absence.

On a whim fueled by desperation and alcohol, Annie suggests they record an extended sex session to spice things up a bit. Soon after, Jay accidentally uploads the three-hour video to a bunch of tablet computers (The manufacturer gets a lot of free advertising about the quality of these devices). In order to delete the embarrassing video, they must retrieve these tablets from family, friends, the mailman, and Annie's possible future boss.

Annie and Jay iterate the predicament multiple times before taking action. They start their hunt for the tablets with their friends Robby (Rob Corddry) and Tess (Ellie Kemper). After a brief interlude of an amusing scene in which Annie and Jay try to gauge whether or not their friends know about the video without giving away any information, they go over the problem once again.

The hunt and expository dialogue continue, and Annie and Jay come up with a plan to get the tablet she gave to Hank (Rob Lowe), the CEO of the company interested in buying her blog. What follows is the only sequence in the movie that sets up jokes and actually follows through on them. It's a sporadically funny scene that plays Hank's seemingly straitlaced nature (He has portraits of himself as characters in animated films) as a way to hide his dirty secrets, puts Annie in a situation where she must do cocaine to keep up appearances, and features an unstoppable dog that relentlessly pursues Jay as he searches for the tablet.

Alas, the frantic farce of this sequence is an outlier. The movie is primarily engaged in nonstop reiteration of plot, and by the end, the screenplay isn't even consistent in this regard, with characters skipping major developments and backtracking to things that don't matter anymore. There are flashes of potential here (An uncredited Jack Black appears as a pornography maven with solid relationship advice, but the bulk of his screen time consists of him listing porn websites), but Sex Tape possesses too much comedic insecurity to do anything of value with them.

Copyright 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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