Movie Review: “Sex Tape”

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Sex Tape“Sex Tape,” which is legitimately among the very worst movies of this year or any other, commits numerous crimes large and small against comedy, technology, sexuality and more.

Sure, the film- in which Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz play a bored long-married couple who make a sex tape, accidentally upload it to the cloud, and must take it down before all their friends see it- probably had “dud” written all over it from the start. But beyond all that is how disjointed and hacky the comedy is. I can’t remember a big studio comedy in which the jokes were so bad, the timing so off,  the chemistry so sour, and the whole project so reliant on bottom-feeding, old-as-the-hills gags.

The major miscalculations are evident from the start: We get a flashback to Segel and Diaz in college, which is confusing in that Diaz is nearly a decade older than her “husband,” and in these scenes, neither character has been de-aged in the slightest. This stuff isn’t that hard- Segel had college flashbacks in about 30 different episodes of How I Met Your Mother, when all they had to do was stick him in a wig and stoner gear.

Then we get stuff like that old, Three’s Company-era trope in which a character is obviously lying and making things up as they go along, and the person they’re talking to believes them. Segel gets attacked by a dog, a gag that appeared in “There’s Something About Mary” and just about every other comedy in the late ’90s.  There’s a “mystery texter” whose identity is guessable within about two minutes. There’s later a running gag about the mailman that never pays off; Dave “Gruber” Allen, Segel’s old guidance counselor from Freaks and Geeks, is listed in the credits as playing the part but I don’t remember ever seeing him. And the movie ends with a closing series of gags that’s clearly meant to evoke “The Hangover,” but not even close.

But worse than that, the dialogue throughout is just bad, and almost never funny- it almost appears as though the actors were improvising and the director just threw up his hands and used all the first takes.

 Let’s talk about the weakness of the central premise. Bored with their usual sex life, the two decide to shoot a homemade sex tape. (We see both leads’ butts more than once, and a hint of Diaz sideboob, and if you’re the type of moviegoer for whom that information is important, then god bless you. Go rent “The Counselor“)

 Once they’re done, Segel neglects to delete the tape, and the file is immediately synced to the iPads of dozens of their friends, family members and colleagues. You see Segel, in his job as a radio engineer, is frequently given free iPads, which he passes along to friends and acquaintances. Segel and Diaz then must race to physically confiscate the iPads from all their friends, before it’s too late.

If you guessed that this premise is too convoluted to be funny for even one second, you were right. But on top of that, the film exhibits little-to-no knowledge of the cloud, what it is, or how it works, and assumes the audience doesn’t know anything about it either.

Let’s quickly spot the technological plot holes in the film:

– Apple offers no service that automatically shares every video on your iPad to everyone you know without your permission. (Indeed, Apple has already come out and stated flat-out that the premise of the film is impossible.)

– Once Segel realized he had synced the video to everyone he knows, he could easily have deleted it and synched everything again, without the video, and solved the plot’s problem in two minutes.

– Unless you’re a high-level software developer or Apple executive, you’re probably not given dozens of free iPads per year to distribute to your friends. iPads in real life cost around $500, but this movie treats them like they have the monetary value of dinner napkins.

– Cameras on iPads are notoriously terrible; no one would use one for something important when another camera was available.

– Three-hour videos are huge files, which take a very long time to sync. Also, YouPorn doesn’t host a lot of videos that are three hours long. Nor are its servers, I would imagine, located in a storage unit.

– Diaz’s character is a professional mommy blogger, which is depicted here as a glamorous, lucrative profession that sets off corporate bidding wars.

– The film introduces a revenge porn subplot that’s supposed to be funny. Ever read about revenge porn? It’s one of the most horrifying things in the world, and now illegal in much of the country.

– The movie’s called “Sex Tape,” but it’s a video file. Not a tape.

I’d love to know the details of Apple’s product placement deal with this movie: On the one hand, Apple products are in every other shot and always praised effusively, but on the other, the entire plot hinges on an absolute disaster involving the company’s technology- one that, in real life, is next to impossible. At least it’s a relief to see a rare Sony-produced movie in which the smartphones, tablets and laptops aren’t all incongruously Sony-branded. 

Tech notwithstanding, the film has nothing of note to say about marriage or sex, either. In fact, its take on human sexuality- in the finest Farrelly/Apatow tradition- is actually quite conservative- pro-marriage, pro-monogamy, and totally uncontroversial. The film’s ultimate conclusion about the institution of marriage – that couples should communicate better, and make more time with each other- is so transgressive that it’s completely identical to that of every single Hollywood romantic comedy about married people of the last 25 years. It’s also sort of weird that we’re told over and over again that Segel and Diaz are both aging and past their primes- when we can see with our own eyes that they both look as great as they ever have.

Awful premise notwithstanding, the result here is pretty disappointing, considering the level of talent involved in this project, on both sides of the camera. Jake Kasdan directed- spotty resume, sure, but he made the outstanding “Zero Effect” and the reasonably good “The TV Set.” Segel and Nicolas Stoller- who wrote 2011’s instant-classic “Muppets” movie, as well as “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”- are two of the three writers. Diaz, whatever you think of her, has been in some very funny comedies.

The supporting cast is loaded with the likes of Rob Corddry, Ellie Kemper, Nat Faxon, Randall Park and, in a supremely weird part that’s totally beneath him, Rob Lowe. I guess that he had a sex tape scandal of his own 25 years ago is supposed to be inherently hilarious in and of itself. There’s also a surprise appearance near the end by a recognizable actor that’s impressive, but that’s about it.

A final note: At the preview screening for “Sex Tape,” the studio security guys were noticeably lax about enforcing the no cell phones/piracy prevention policy. Sure, they asked everyone to turn off their phones as they walked in and said so again before the movie started. But they didn’t collect phones, nor did they roam the theater rows with flashlights. And I think I know why- there can’t be much piracy concern here on the part of the studio. Because  in the coming years, while a whole lot of people will perform Torrent searches for the phrase “sex tape,” almost none of them will be looking for this movie.

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