I did not laugh once during all 98 minutes of Sex Tape, and that is the least of its problems.
by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
I am convinced that Sex Tape is some kind of deliberate Andy Kaufman-esque prank on the rest of us. It has to be, I will not accept any other excuse. How did Cameron Diaz, a talented comedic actress, Jason Segel, a talented comic actor and a very good comedy writer, Nicholas Stoller, a very talented writer and director of comedy, and Jake Kasdan, responsible for the brilliance that is Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, create a comedy film so utterly dreadful? Hell, not just a comedy, a dreadful film in general? This is a failure on every single conceivable level, to such an extent that I feel like it’d be easier to list the things that the film does right, like “string enough moving pictures together so that the result technically resembles what one would consider a movie to look like”. This is one of those times where I utilise the phrase “fundamentally flawed” and I absolutely mean it. This should not have been released, this should not even have been filmed, and I refuse to believe that everybody involved went ahead on this project not realising this fact; there is too much talent involved here to give anyone any benefit of any doubt.
The premise is that Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel make a sex tape that Jason Segel accidentally syncs to a whole bunch of iPads and, because neither of them have any clue how technology works, this leads to the two of them trying to hunt down the iPads in order to erase it before anyone sees it. I specify “premise” and mention the fact that Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel are in this film because I want to specifically draw attention to the fact that those things are all that Sex Tape has. It has a premise and a cast and literally nothing else. There are no jokes in Sex Tape. There are no characters in Sex Tape. There is no structure to Sex Tape. There is no thematic backbone to Sex Tape. There is no emotional undercurrent to latch onto in Sex Tape. There is nothing to Sex Tape except the premise, the cast and 98 torturous minutes.
It all comes back to that screenplay, written by Segel & Stoller and Kate Angelo, who also came up with the story. It’s barely a first draft, that’s how awful the thing is. For example, despite running at a relatively svelte 98 minutes, there is still too much dead weight to Sex Tape. There are too many characters that drop in, get extended sequences of screen-time and then drop out again despite having no effect whatsoever on proceedings, the most egregious example being Nat Faxon as Jason Segel’s workmate who pops up in one scene for three minutes, which is mostly focussed on his character despite him never showing up again and the scene having no reason for existing. A good fifteen minutes, at least, of the runtime are spent at Rob Lowe’s house as they try and find his iPad. Fifteen. Fifteen whole minutes of this film are dedicated to one scenario where Jason Segel is chased by a dog and Cameron Diaz acts surprised that Rob Lowe isn’t a completely wholesome guy. Lowe even disappears completely from the film after it’s done, just to rub salt into the wound! Jack Black pops up at one point and the film stops dead for a full minute (not an exaggeration) to have him rattle off a seemingly endless list of porn site names. It’s padding of the most blatant and egregious kind, as if it’s straight up admitting that there is not enough material to cover an entire 98 minutes of film.
Screenplay Problem #2: there are no characters here. None. None whatsoever. Our leads barely qualify as one-dimensional and their romance is seemingly predicated entirely on sex. One would think that this would lead to them going through a nuanced arc as they discover the true reasons why they married one another, but that’s not how it goes. How it instead goes is that they both get angry and annoyed at one another until the film decides that they then love each other totally. There’s no real change, no growth, no reason why this is brought on; they just hate each other until they don’t. This is the most character development that goes on in the whole movie. Rob Corddry and Ellie Kemper turn up as happily married friends of Segel and Diaz, and the film promptly uses that set-up to have the pair of them be turned on by Segel and Diaz’s sex tape. Yes, that is it. The villain (yes, this film has a villain, don’t be surprised) is evil for literally no reason, Rob Lowe’s trait is that his character is a debauched degenerate who is the head of a family company ha ha ha, and Jack Black’s character amounts to “he has a stupid moustache and a fur coat.”
You may have already figured out Screenplay Problem #3 from that prior paragraph: there is no meaning to any of this. You could use this premise to explore the issues of married life, of breaking out of modernity and revitalising the spark, of how making a sex tape maybe isn’t the most desperate thing you can do in a relationship, maybe contrast Kemper and Corddry’s happy marriage with Segel and Diaz’s unhappy one, or maybe even have the tape become something that the duo can treasure as proof of how strong their bond is. As you may have figured out, none of that happens. Scenes just lurch from one to another with no real meaning behind them, no theme, no character arc, no emotional reason to exist. That last bit is especially ridiculous when the film decides, in the final fifteen minutes, to crash headfirst into sappy sentimentality and it all falls incredibly flat due to the aforementioned lack of characters, arcs or reasons to care. There is nothing going on here and yet it lasts 98 minutes! 98 minutes of nothing! This is literal time-wasting, people! A lack of characters, well-developed or no, in a comedy doesn’t have to be a problem if that’s the point (like how Airplane! is a nonsense parody of disaster films, or how 22 Jump Street is an all-in parody and embracing of pointless comedy sequels), but you need a point, a reason for existing, otherwise you are literally just time-wasting.
Honestly, that last problem makes Screenplay Problem #4 seem completely irrelevant or, at the very least, minor in the grand scheme of things, but it needs mentioning anyway: there are no jokes in Sex Tape. Stuff happens and you’re expected to laugh. Hey, hey, did you know that the f-word is naughty and that saying it is funny for that exact reason? Did you also know that sex is absolutely gross? As is talking about sex? And that white upper-class people can like metal and rap music? Also, aren’t kids that don’t speak like kids just adorably funny? And that adults who don’t know how to use technology are weird and out-of-touch? There, I just listed every single bit of “humour” that Sex Tape wants to throw at you. It’s all extremely obvious and very easy, lazily tossed off with near-total contempt for the audience who inexplicably were busting multiple guts during my screening. I realise that humour is subjective, more so than pretty much anything else in life, but to laugh at this is to basically admit that you have no standards for comedy. I’m sorry if you’re not willing to hear this, but it’s the truth, and the sooner you accept this fact, the sooner you can learn to better yourself.
Two further issues, real quick. 1) This film’s shilling of the iPad is absolutely ridiculous. I get that the iPad is a necessary part of the film’s premise (again, not plot, big difference) and I am willing to suspend my disbelief when characters mention the thing by its brand name instead of just as “tablet” or some such. When you repeatedly have characters stop the film and openly express the virtues of its camera and resolution and durability in extensive detail, then it crosses the line from a part of the film to gaudy and blatant product placement. Unsurprisingly, this happens a lot. An unacceptable amount of a lot. 2) You think late-series How I Met Your Mother was Jason Segel phoning it in as an actor? Son, you have no idea. You have no idea…
I don’t like to parrot my reviews 100% as consumer advice, because different people will find different things entertaining, especially with comedy, and I can’t tell you what you will and will not like, but I cannot order you enough to stay away from this one, folks. What we have here are a whole bunch of really talented people, really talented people that have proven that they are really talented people who can do better, who have created 98 minutes of absolutely nothing, with nothing to say and no value whatsoever. And I have come to two theories as to why this has happened. Either everyone involved decided to see if they could get away with making and releasing a film with as little effort or work put into it as possible in an attempt to see how much damage their careers would take as a result, or they have purposefully crafted a comedy with no jokes or reason to exist to see if such a thing would be possible. Attempted career suicide or performance art. I don’t much like either theory but they’re the only ones I can come up with as to how these very talented people could fuck up so totally. This may be the worst comedy of the whole dire year. Blended may have been racist, sexist, and twenty unbearable minutes longer than this, but at least that movie had thematic and emotional arcs and a reason to exist!
Again, I don’t like parroting my reviews as full-on consumer advice, but I really did see Sex Tape so that you don’t have to. And if you do see Sex Tape and laugh at it, with that laughter brought on by the film and no outside factors, then you have no sense of humour or low standards in humour and should devote extensive time to bettering yourself as a human being as a result. Do not reward everyone involved in this. Stay far away.