By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer
Jake Kasdan’s “Sex Tape” accomplishes a curious thing. It’s the near surreptitious merging of traditional romantic farce with the new screwball raunchiness that’s body-snatched the American film comedy in recent years. While the prim and proper are sure to be abashed by the complications engendered when a thirty something couple’s tape of their marathon lovemaking goes viral, the jaded may be wont to wonder: When did such risqué behavior become commonplace in essentially mainstream cinema?
I don’t mean to sound hypocritical, mind you, as I probably laughed harder than any of my compatriots at the Bijou. For all the tolerance a blasé acceptance of such fare connotes, there’s still no discounting the attraction of forbidden fruit…or, what’s left of it. However, it’s sort of like watching an entire movie spoken in slang.
Fact is, though Lady Chatterley and her assorted lovers have been hiding behind the curtains of literature and film for some time now, we are at a liberal watershed in our art if, alas, not in our politics. Hopefully, this graduation from peep show to multiplex attraction isn’t Big Brother’s ploy to placate souls otherwise frustrated by his intrusions. Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” (1971) predicted it. To the Romans’s hoi polloi-appeasing bread and circus you can now add the birds and the bees gone bawdy.
I’d venture that the Founding Fathers, whose all-important First Amendment makes such open-mindedness possible, wouldn’t be terribly shocked by “Sex Tape”… at least not Ben. Fact is, it’s all rather silly, especially to us cosmopolitan types…ahem.
Unfortunately, the script, adds few novel thoughts to the litany of four-lettered favorites spouted with Gatling gun rapidity and volume. Whereas the classical screwball comedies of the 1930s and ‘40’s were all about cleverness, if you were to strip the ribald chaff from Mr. Kasdan’s movie there would hardly be a witticism worthy of a laugh.
Still, in all fairness, there is a commonality between “Sex Tape” and its genre progenitor in that social criticism is part and parcel of the plot. Whereas the Great Depression era examples understandably tackled difference in caste and financial status, here it’s the woes of the two income family trying to make time for the important stuff…like sex.
While decidedly middle class Annie and Jay, portrayed by Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel, respectively, judiciously allocate time to their two offspring and have achieved notable career success, it dawns on them that the nooky quotient has dissipated. Alas, an important part of what initially strummed their heartstrings is now like that expensive restaurant you only go to on special occasions. Oh, Dr. Ruth, what to do, what to do?
All of which brings us to the title solution. The thought is that the creation of their very own bit of pornography will spark the fire that has been all but smothered by the rigors of domesticity and the complacence that comes with the passage of time. The thing is, Jay was supposed to erase the homegrown pièce de résistance right after they viewed it.
Oops! Blame it on vanity, stupidity or more likely just the need to propel the plot into the usual sitcom complications. As the unscrupulous fates would have it, a nasty little boy (Harrison Holzer), the son of Annie and Jay’s supposed best friends, has acquired a copy of the dirty deed in question. He’ll give it up for a mere 25K. Thus is put in motion the helter-skelter attempt to cut the junior blackmailer off at the pass. That is, retrieve the compromising hanky-panky before any reputations are impugned.
With the two kids in tow for part of what Annie and Jay explain is a scavenger hunt, the ensuing chaos includes a by accident/on purpose visit to the manse of Rob Lowe’s iconoclastic bigwig, Hank. He’s the espouser of family values in whose hands lies the future of the motherhood blog Annie has been trying to market. He doesn’t know it, but through a contrivance hardly worth the sentence to explain it, a copy of the telltale tape has found its way into his home. Suffice it to note, his German shepherd hates Jay.
Serving as the Fred and Ethel Mertz to our X-rated Lucy and Ricky Riccardo, Rob Corddry and Ellie Kemper are effective second bananas. Of course they bring their own soiled laundry to the misehgoss. But none of the generally adequate performances can compensate for the uninspired writing.
It’s like the comedian who works blue when the muse of wit has abandoned him. Such fare is OK if struck by that sudden need for frivolous slumming. But for those who prefer something that appeals to one’s better comic instincts, the advice here is to erase “Sex Tape” from your must-see list before someone sees it.
“Sex Tape,” rated R, is a Sony Pictures release directed by Jake Kasdan and stars Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel and Rob Lowe. Running time: 94 minutes