The most frustrating movies are not those that are outright bad, but those that come so close to being good, only to fail. They find themselves bumping against good ideas almost without trying, only to forget them or wander away in search of something nonsensical. Such is the state of Sex Tape, directed with dishwater visuals and a feeling of fatigue by Jake Kasdan from a limp screenplay credited to Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller, and Kate Angelo (who also receives story credit). The story’s premise is thin but almost promising: a loving couple, Jay and Annie (played by Segel and Cameron Diaz), film themselves having sex and accidentally give the resulting video to friends and family. Yet the film doesn’t explore the fallout from this, or follow through on its few fleeting attempts to tease out a story about the intersection of technology and sexuality in modern couplehood. Instead, it’s all about the wild pursuit to get the videos back in the right hands. The video could be anything, so Sex Tape is really just Random Chase Scenes With Swearing. Additionally, there’s only so much padding that the filmmakers can put in before things start to wrap up. As a result, the story keeps introducing new twists and antagonists every few scenes, then dropping and replacing them. It stretches to fill 90 minutes of screen time, yet feels so, so much longer.
Jay and Annie opted to make the video in the first place as part of a series of efforts to revive a sex life that’s been flagging ever since they had kids, and the film’s only entertaining moments are the ones that attempt to comedically and somewhat realistically explore the tension and friction that animates the big night. Annie dresses up in a Rollergirl outfit but falls off the bed when Jay can’t get her skates off; a suggestion to make love on the kitchen floor sounds exciting in theory but is cold and awkward in practice; distractions and rusty moves lead to bumpy stops and starts, as body language signals the shifts from foreplay to waiting around and back again. Segel and Diaz get to move through different modes, and for the briefest of moments, it’s like watching real people.
The rest of the film, though, is impossibly labored. In order to create a situation in which Jay and Annie accidentally distribute a digital file of their intimate times to loved ones, a number of wildly coincidental and unbelievable things are made to happen: 1) Jay acquires two new iPads and helpfully explains to his assistant that he always gets two at a time because of a “complicated syncing system” involving his expansive music library; 2) Jay professes his love for a specialty app called Frankensync, which allows him to push music playlists to multiple iPads; 3) Jay, who apparently goes through iPads the way a normal person goes through things that don’t cost $600, gives away many of his old iPads as gifts; 4) Jay includes the video among the music files he shares; 5) Jay does not know that these devices can be wiped remotely, nor does he consider calling any kind of customer service hotline. The seams show in every scene, as if Kasdan and the crew are too embarrassed by the film’s clumsiness to bother trying to hide it. Even first-act plot points that are seeded for later use are ignored: Annie, a mommy blogger, is on the verge of selling her blog to a company that prizes family values. Non-spoiler: everything works out fine, and does so offscreen, so there’s no need to worry. There’s a grim “we might as well get through this” vibe that pervades everything, and each successive set piece — Jay gets in a fight with a guard dog, Jay commits a little B&E, Jay jumps off a balcony, etc. — pushes the film farther from its small, barely recognizable human core.
Most of the film feels cobbled together from freewheeling, half-improvised takes. Characters come and go with little reason or consequence, including Jay’s coworker, played by Nat Faxon in all of one scene, and Annie’s potential boss, played by Rob Lowe as a family-values square with a drug-snorting, rap-loving dark side. (The mind reels at watching Annie worry that her book deal will fall through if Lowe’s character sees the video, even though Lowe himself is a testament to the fact that you can get past these things with the right attitude and PR.) Supporting players like Rob Corddry and Ellie Kemper feel similarly wasted. Somewhere, on some editor’s hard drive, are 15 minutes of deleted scenes that wouldn’t make Sex Tape better but would make it infinitely more cohesive and understandable, taking it from a slapdash series of half-hearted gags to something resembling an actual movie. That’s the video I want to see leaked to the cloud.