I would never say that Sex Tape lacks competent people working on it. I’m not personally familiar with director Jake Kasdan’s prior work, but I know his Orange County has a cult following and apparently his 2011 film Bad Teacher did well enough that a sequel has been given the green light. Cameron Diaz has been in a number of successful comedies, as has co-star Jason Segel. Putting the Bad Teacher team back together probably seemed like a safe bet from the studio’s perspective. No, this isn’t a case where a film was made by a group of people who were incompetent. It’s just a film where a group of people made a film that completely failed to reflect their competence. There is nary a laugh to be had in this comedy, nor any shred of narrative sense.
In Sex Tape, Diaz and Segel play Annie and Jay, a couple with two young children who are starting to feel that they’ve fallen into a rut. In order to celebrate the impending sponsorship of Annie’s blog by a major toy company, they foist the kids off on grandma for one night and decide to make a sex tape to renew the spark in their relationship. In the morning, instead of deleting it as planned, they discover that Jay’s iPad has synced with all the iPads he’s given to friends and business acquaintances and uploaded the video to them. This begins a quest to retrieve the iPads before anybody sees the video — most particularly Annie’s prospective boss at the toy company.
Virtually any movie relies a little bit on contrivance. Star Wars would have ended after ten minutes if someone had realized an escape pod with no signs of life could still contain droids. Sunset Boulevard only happens because the narrator pulls into one particular driveway. But most films get by because the contrivances are reasonably plausible, sometimes even commonplace. The contrivances in Sex Tape are fairly far-fetched, and leave one wondering how they happen to begin with. This is apparently a world where a toy company is willing to pay a fortune for a mommy blog, and this is the least unlikely thing about the film. Segel’s character is handing out iPads by the dozen because he has his music playlists on them… and while the details are never made clear, this is somehow his job. Apparently someone is paying him to make mix-tapes and give them away, and is paying enough that a shipping crate of iPads is an incidental expense. On top of this, although it’s the character’s job, he apparently has no idea how his synchronization software works. While the film does have the self-awareness to call him out on this, it’s still asking a lot to expect the audience to believe that it automatically syncs everything saved on the iPad, or that he wouldn’t have saved the video file to a non-shared folder. It relies on the notion that in all the time he’s been doing this iPad-mix-tape thing, he’s never once had a single track on there that he didn’t intend to share with every single person he’s given an iPad to. Or in other words, that every single mix-tape has been equally appropriate for his mother, his mailman, his friends, and the record executives he’s presumably doing this for. It seems mighty unlikely that he wouldn’t know at least enough to prevent one file from being shared… and less likely that, if he didn’t know how to prevent his software from automatically sharing, that he would still choose to use one of those synced devices to shoot the sex tape.
Contrivance can be forgiven, of course, if the film is funny. But, given that I just wrote a paragraph about the contrivance, you can probably hazard a guess as to my opinion of the humor in the film. The film isn’t completely devoid of laughs — only the most dire of comedies are — but it’s close. There’s a stilted awkwardness to most of the dialogue; the punchlines lack punch. Segel and Diaz appear to almost be sleepwalking through their dialogue most of the time, aside from a scene in which Diaz is high on cocaine. Rob Lowe, as the owner of the toy company, is the most energetic actor and even his key scene is essentially one thin joke extended to twenty minutes. Jack Black has a small role as well, but the dialogue he’s provided gives him no room for humorous delivery. There are a few wacky hijinks, but only a few, and they seldom reach the level of hilarity achieved by true masterpieces of slapstick.
I’ll admit that I only watched the film because it was one of those digital freebies that come up now and then. I probably wouldn’t have watched it if it weren’t a part of my UltraViolet library, and I probably wouldn’t have paid for it. But under the circumstances, I was willing to give it a chance. It’s a comedy, Diaz and Segel can be funny, it seemed like it might work out. But it didn’t. The premise is cliche, the narrative is contrived, and the humor is tepid. Even fans of raunchy comedy, whom one would assume were the target audience by the premise, are going to walk away disappointed; the film is just barely risque enough to warrant its R rating. No matter what one is looking for, there’s just nothing to recommend this movie.