(Sony Pictures Entertainment)
US: 18 Jul 2014 (General release)
UK: 3 Sep 2014 (General release)
There’s a whiff of desperation in calling a movie Sex Tape. It sounds like the subject line of a spam email that you should not open under any circumstances. True, a link promising a “sex tape starring Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel” might be hard to resist, but like spam, this movie is not going to give you quite what you’re looking for.
Sex Tape is about Annie (Diaz) and Jay (Segel) trying to regain their passion for each other after a decade of marriage and two kids. They appear to be running a pretty smooth operation, doing a decent job raising their children and managing to have successful work lives in the process. But it has come at the expense of intimacy and adventure in their relationship.
In an effort to jumpstart their sex life, Annie and Jay decide to make a video of themselves demonstrating every position in The Joy of Sex, resulting in a marathon three-hour session. Spent and satisfied, Annie and Jay seem to have fixed their relationship and get their groove back. Unfortunately, this is only a third of the way through the movie.
The best parts of Sex Tape all focus on the rise, fall, and recovery of Annie and Jay’s sex life. A montage of their frequent and varied couplings at the start of their relationship is very funny. The scenes in present day when they are trying and failing to have sex are amusing and also reveal a touching chemistry between Diaz and Segel. Sex Tape might have been a better movie if it had allowed these moments more space and ended with the epic sex tape as the climax, so to speak.
Instead, with an hour to go, the film shifts gears when Annie and Jay realize that their sex tape has accidentally been uploaded to the cloud by a file backup app and is available to a number of people to whom Jay has given his old iPads. The set-up for this snafu requires significant suspension of disbelief: Jay appears to work for a radio station, though what he does is never clear, that regularly provides him with new iPads for the purpose of storing and cataloguing music. Putting aside the unlikely fact that the station lets him give away the old iPads when he gets a new one, the movie expects the viewer to believe that Jay doesn’t wipe the old ones clean when he gives them away (explanation: he’s granting access to his music collection). Furthermore, Jay lets the old iPads stay hooked up to his cloud-based file sharing system, which we are then expected to believe has gotten an update that is suddenly sharing all of Annie and Jay’s files, not just the music.
Sillier still: when they realize that everyone with one of the iPads can see their sex tape—including family, friends, and the mailman—Annie and Jay decide to go to all of their homes and retrieve the iPads. Again, it strains credibility that Jay and Annie, who are respectively tech savvy enough to share a massive music collection and maintain a successful blog about motherhood, would not first troubleshoot this problem by seeing if the app can recover the file.
Their efforts turn Sex Tape into a Hangover-esque shaggy dog search for the iPads that is neither raunchy nor funny enough. One of those iPads is in the possession of Hank (Rob Lowe, in a bit of stunt casting), a CEO about to buy Annie’s blog as the wholesome voice for his toy company’s social media operation. It is nearly impossible to believe that Annie gave her presentation for the job application directly to the CEO on an iPad that he then took to his house.
Sure, whatever, we get it: the film needs an extended set piece in Hank’s house where Annie does drugs while Jay gets attacked by a dog. While Lowe’s cameo is truly enjoyable, the gymnastics it takes to get there undermine the rest of the movie.
This might be said of all of Sex Tape, which demonstrates that it is very hard to do a funny movie about the difficulty of maintaining a successful marriage. Credit should be given to Judd Apatow, who took that challenge head on in This Is 40, a film that was so honest on the subject that it was almost impossible to watch.
Sex Tape throws up its hands in defeat almost immediately after settling into its premise. The result is a manic pursuit of a goal that has little to do with the real life-like questions that might have made it even vaguely interesting.
This surrender is all too clear by the time Jay and Annie arrive at the headquarters of a porn website to destroy its servers. Jack Black shows up to deliver a monologue about how sex with your spouse isn’t as important as remembering why you wanted to have sex with your spouse in the first place. That was pretty clearly the message Sex Tape was shooting for in the first half hour of the movie. We haven’t forgotten, but apparently the movie has.