The three-hour-long homemade porn video that Jay and Annie (Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz) inadvertently upload to the cloud in Jake Kasdan’s Sex Tape looks like a much better movie than Sex Tape (which runs, thankfully, only 94 minutes). Jay and Annie’s film, which they decide to make on a whim one night in an attempt to jump-start their near-sexless decadelong marriage, includes some bold cinematographic choices: Though we first see Jay setting up a stationary iPad to record the action, later shots appear to be framed from varying close-up angles, suggesting either the presence of a third-party camera operator or some world-class selfie-framing. And those moments we do glimpse from the couple’s magnum opus—an epic re-enactment of the entire Joy of Sex catalog of sexual positions—seem spontaneous, unpredictable, and funny. In a scene that represents Sex Tape’s road not taken, Jay enacts his long-unfulfilled fantasy of singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in an old-timey Al Jolson warble while wearing only an Egyptian-style loincloth.
Sex Tape, conversely, is as timid, bland, and predictable as romantic comedies come—though it’s a hard movie to hate entirely, whether because of its game and likeable co-stars or because the script (by Segel, his Forgetting Sarah Marshall collaborator Nicholas Stoller, and Kate Angelo) just keeps trying so doggedly to sell its preposterous—and apparently technologically impossible—comic premise. You see, Jay is a radio DJ—at least I’m fairly sure that’s what he does, since his job involves attending lots of music shows, occasionally shooting the bull with friends in what appears to be a sound studio, and putting lots and lots of music playlists on iPads. This movie is awash in iPads, no doubt both for product placement reasons (“These things are so durable!” marvels Jay, picking up a dropped tablet) and because the simultaneous syncing of multiple iPads via a fictional app called Frankensync is essential to putting the suspense plot (such as it is) in motion.
After Jay and Annie’s sex tape accidentally uploads—not to the Web, mind you, but to this far-flung network of interconnected iPads that Jay has loaded with music to give out to friends and family—they set out on a madcap-yet-boring mission to secure all the tablets in question and erase the video before anyone sees it. But at least one person already has—a mystery troll who’s anonymously texting Jay with implicit threats to put the whole thing online.
On their nocturnal iPad-seizing journey through L.A., Jay and Annie acquire a pair of co-conspirators, their old friends Robby and Tess (Rob Corddry and Ellie Kemper, both underused), and eventually cross paths with a wisdom-dispensing Web porn mogul played by an uncredited and quite funny Jack Black. But their top priority is to infiltrate the home of Hank Rosenbaum (Rob Lowe), the CEO of a wholesome toy company that’s about to acquire Annie’s parenting blog (writing mommy blogs and baking cupcakes being among the fastest-growing fields for entrepreneurial rom-com heroines). In a long sequence at his mansion, the cardigan-clad, apparently placid Hank reveals himself to be a party animal with a taste for gangsta rap and cocaine, which he peer-pressures Annie into snorting with him while Jay combs the house for the iPad, pursued by a crazed German shepherd. This clumsily cross-cut sequence goes on for far too long, but Lowe (a real-life veteran of a sex-tape scandal) is genuinely funny as the needy, unpredictable Hank. Lowe has a knack for creating memorably off-kilter supporting characters (like Liberace’s immobile-faced plastic surgeon in Behind the Candelabra), and he and Diaz manage to capture and skewer the faux-intimate bonding of two near-strangers doing drugs together.
This is the second time Kasdan has paired up Diaz and Segel in a mildly racy romantic comedy—the first was 2011’s Bad Teacher—and though neither movie floated my boat, I wouldn’t mind seeing these two play a couple again. They have a similar comic energy—both are tall, ungainly, over-earnest nerds—and they’re believable both as the long-married parents of two rarely seen kids and (in flashbacks) as a pair of sex-crazed college lovebirds. The usually schleppy (and always-up-for-baring-it-all) Segel has been slimmed down and gym-buffed to within an inch of his life, no doubt in order to make him a plausibly attractive mate for the always-lissome Ms. Diaz. He looks handsome, if a little gaunt around the face, but a part of me was sad to see a male star subjected to the same pitiless beautification gauntlet actresses are routinely sentenced to endure. Memo to Hollywood: Here’s one viewer who doesn’t mind her Segels, Rogens, and Pratts with a little more meat on their bones.
Sex Tape seems aimed at the same imaginary demographic to which its characters belong: people in their 30s who somehow a) own Joy of Sex in paperback; b) make it a habit to routinely acquire and discard iPads, yet have no concept of how to remotely erase one; and c) work in tech-related fields (online writing, radio production) yet fly into a panic at the mere concept of “the cloud.” (Full disclosure: I don’t really get the cloud myself.) In a not-far-off Internet future, Sex Tape will be seen less as a comedy about a loving couple resparking their physical intimacy through shared misadventure than as a satire about technologically clueless clods who still think information resides on individual devices. That is, if this movie gets rewatched at all—a prospect which, like accidentally posting your three-hour sex tutorial to the Internet, seems both ill-advised and unlikely.