A tape not worth playing

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First Posted: 7/15/2014

The lasciviously named “Sex Tape” is a tepid comedy that offers moviegoers the chance to see Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz’s bare behinds. I’m not sure that’s reason enough to watch, unless you’re 13. Or don’t have Internet access. Or have fairly low expectations regarding comedy.

If you’ve hit the entire checklist, congratulations! I can recommend many better movies.

Annie (Diaz) and Jay (Segel) are married, and by all appearances, happily so. She’s a mommy blogger on the verge of mainstream success. He’s in the music industry and is very good at it since he regularly gives away his old iPads. But…their sex life is in critical condition. Annie writes that they used to have sex all the time in every position. With kids and jobs and running around, fooling around has moved down the list of priorities, somewhere behind watching “Project Runway.”

She initiates the change, getting her mom to babysit so she and Jay can have a night alone. At first, it’s a disaster. She roller skates into his home office with barely a stitch on, which he loves, but complications arise. She then suggests they make a sex tape, which is a revitalizing success. The afterglow quickly fades. Jay doesn’t erase the three-hour video from his iPad, and it somehow gets sent to his old tablets. Jay and a furious Annie must scramble to retrieve the iPads and erase the video—or something like that—before their night of sweaty acrobatics is memorialized.

And what an adventure the couple has! It’s filled with family-friendly CEOs sniffing cocaine, blackmailing fourth graders, and Jack Black as a sage pornographer. Not only has these beat-the-clock theatrics been done to death, it’s at odds with Annie and Jay’s relationship issues and contributes to the movie’s swift demise.

Segel and Nicholas Stoller, two of “Sex Tape’s” three writers, have frequently found the adult soul in goofy comedies, a list that spans from 2008’s “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” to this May’s “Neighbors,” which Stoller directed. Annie and Jay’s sexual impasse is mined for thoughtful laughs and insights, but too often it’s treated as a prelude to mirthless PG-13 hijinks. Why have Diaz and Segel, two capable comedic actors, exchange dialogue or navigate their awkwardness when Segel can be chased by a psychotic guard dog?

Jake Kasdan, who directed the pair in 2011’s awful “Bad Teacher,” has a disdain for comedy based on manners or dialogue. The laughs here go toward the broad—think pratfalls and inappropriate tattoos. Kasdan seems loath to trust his cast. though that may be a good thing since Amy and Jay have zero relatable qualities. And it’s not just because of their zeitgeist-chic occupations. Diaz and Segel’s gym-sculpted bods and refusal to look slightly rumpled—couldn’t someone have put them in sweatpants for one scene?—distances their characters from us. They look the same today as they do in their college flashbacks.

“Sex Tape” isn’t honest enough or bawdy enough or clever enough to elevate it beyond being mildly pleasant. It is a sitcom episode with ass shots, a rom-com with four-letter words, and a potentially smart comedy that can’t stop reveling in stupidity. The last thing is what bothers me the most.

Rating: W W

– For more of Pete’s cinematic musings please follow him on Twitter, @PeteCroatto.