Segel, Diaz Strain For Laughs In Unsexy "Sex Tape"

Humor is inherent to sex. There’s little about loud, flailing, sweaty people that isn’t funny, which, along with the act’s universality, makes it an obvious, endless source of inspiration for comedians. In fact, it takes a concerted effort to make sex not funny, which is why Jake Kasdan’s “Sex Tape” is something of a marvel. It plunks two gifted actors into the middle of story about nothing but sex – ostensible money in the bank – and emerges with a negative return on said investment. It’s an epic shoulder shrug of a film, a gross-out comedy that assumes a double dose of phoned-in lewdness is a solid cover for the absence of actual comedy. Spoiler alert: it’s not.

Star Jason Segel has made a career of splitting time between undemanding TV work (“How I Met Your Mother”) and more esoteric film fare (“The Muppets,” “I Love You, Man”). Here, he’s in full-on sitcom mode, bizarrely detached from a screenplay he co-wrote, his newly gaunt appearance mirroring the pic’s skeletal narrative. His co-star, Cameron Diaz, can be funny – she fared reasonably well in Kasdan’s last film, “Bad Teacher” – but she has nothing to work with here, given little dialogue that isn’t expository, stupidly vulgar, or both. A role that could have been an empowering display of female sexuality is, predictably, reduced to “hot mom.”

Diaz plays Annie, a forty-something blogger, wife, and mother on the cusp of a major career advancement. As the film begins, Annie laments, via spoken blog entry, she and her husband’s increasingly dull sex life, graphically recounting their sexual glory days. As she drones on and on about erections – “so many erections,” she helpfully notes – we’re subjected to an aggressively unsexy montage of Annie and her husband-to-be, Jay (Segel), in various states of undress, their reproductive organs conveniently concealed by clothes, arms, and assorted household items.

The film takes its time in informing us that their sex life isn’t what it used to be – as if the equally unfunny trailers weren’t clear enough – and soon the pair are looking for ways to spice things up. After nearly twenty minutes of failed sexual escapades, Annie proposes that they film themselves doing the deed and, voila, spark reignited! Dumb, but for a sex comedy it’s an easy enough premise to digest. The execution, however, is so awkwardly drawn out, the dialogue so stilted that the first act plays like a cruel experiment in endurance. Who’s less enthused – the cast or the audience?

Dumber still, the screenplay likens iPads to greeting cards, with Jay gifting them to the couple’s friends, family, and even Annie’s prospective new boss, each tablet linked to Jay’s master account. In one of the most labored plot devices of the year, Jay works in the music industry and gifts the iPads as glorified mp3 players, synced via his master account because of his incredible taste in music, or something. So when Jay neglects to delete the couple’s sex tape, it uploads to iCloud and the story becomes a lengthy game of “get the iPads back before anyone suspects anything.”

Rob Lowe makes an amusing appearance as Hank, Annie’s potential new boss, but as soon as the character gets his due, Kasdan and company spend twenty interminable minutes mining untold depths for laughs. Segel is endlessly chased around Hank’s mansion by a watchdog – he knocks the animal unconscious not once, but twice – while Diaz does cocaine in some misguided attempt to assimilate. Good filmmakers have successfully made light of hard drug use, but the absurd tone deafness of “Sex Tape” isn’t a match for sly subversiveness. There’s only one thing to feel for Diaz’s character – pity – and it’s a feeling that quickly extends to the actress herself.

But Segel, even at his worst, remains a likable screen presence, keeping us in his corner – or, at least, its vicinity – to the bitter end. Even though we feel nothing for Jay or his predicament, the actor’s charisma is still there. When he willfully throws himself from a balcony near the film’s climax, it’s not especially funny, but it’s the perfect analogy for the actor’s endearing “anything for a laugh” persona. Segel singlehandedly makes the movie vaguely watchable.

The film’s contradictory conclusion – that sex tapes are weird and gross and that people shouldn’t make them – nearly makes sense in its nonsensicality because any film as tired as “Sex Tape” should want to cancel itself out. But its final sequence, so obviously cribbed from “The Hangover,” is the final nail in its coffin, the pic’s way of finally waving the white flag 89 minutes too late. Worse actors have survived worse films, but Segel and Diaz have some work ahead of them to erase this one from the pop culture DVR.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ out of ★★★★★ (Not So Good)

Release Date: July 18, 2014
Studio: Columbia Pictures (Sony)
Director: Jake Kasdan
Screenwriter: Kate Angelo, Jake Kasdan, Jason Segel
Starring: Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Rob Corddry, Ellie Kemper, Rob Lowe
MPAA Rating: R (for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some drug use)