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Movie review: 'Sex Tape' can't close the deal or push the envelope

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Sex Tape

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"SEX TAPE"-- 2 STARS

Let me go on record right now and admit that I had a blast with "Bad Teacher" three summers ago. I, arguably, laughed more watching that than "Bridesmaids" that same summer. That was the last time stars Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel teamed up with director Jake Kasdan. I loved the dark humor and over-the-top characters on display. I enjoyed seeing Cameron Diaz get to cut loose to play something other than the hot ditz. I liked the film's unpredictability and brazen nonconformity. As an educator myself, "Bad Teacher," no matter how dumb it was, had me at its school-based premise and it fulfilled exactly what it needed to do to get me to laugh at what Hollywood thinks of my profession and my peers. As I said in my review, I felt the joy a real cop feels when they watch bad cop movies.

Upon seeing the trailer (go red-band or go home) for the trio's second team-up, "Sex Tape," my interest was easily piqued, thanks to my affinity for "Bad Teacher." That and, let's be honest, Diaz is still hot and Segel is immensely likable. Set for a July release with ample distance from both May and June's headliner R-rated comedies ("Neighbors" and "A Million Ways to Die in the West"), I liked the film's chances to score. Well, like expression says, "lightning never strikes in the same place twice." As unsound as that statement is scientifically, it holds true for "Sex Tape" and the team of Diaz, Segel, and Kasdan. This one's a bit of a miss and a mess.

If you've seen that trailer I mentioned, then you've seen 90% of the best that this movie has to offer. As is often the case when a 2-3 minute trailer is better than a 90-minute-and-change movie, something I call "The 'Nacho Libre' Effect," the filmmakers had a really good pitch, premise, and starting idea, but couldn't develop it right from there. The wandering cliches pile on and they start to lose their sense and value by the time we get to the necessary end.

Segel and Diaz play Jay and Annie. They meet in college and hit it off in a sexual tidal wave that would rival rabbits and salmon. Two kids and a decade of marriage later, they can't find the same time and passion between the sheets that they started with. When the stars align for a babysitting sleepover at the in-laws, Jay and Annie finally have the house to themselves and feel compelled to let loose. After awkward foreplay failures, Annie gets the bright idea to create a sex tape to inspire their intimacy. With the goal of performing every illustrated position from Alex Comfort's seminal 1972 best-selling sexual revolution manual "The Joy of Sex," Jay and Annie complete a three-hour epic via iPad video.

Mixing a dash of dumb husband forgetfulness with personal souvenir desire, Jay forgets to erase the video and the powerful syncing app that he uses as a music executive saves and stores the dreaded sex tape on every device linked to Jay's cloud-based server. That includes the iPads they have given as gifts to friends, family, co-workers, bosses, and even the mailman. This embarrassing screw-up sets off a mad one-night dash to retrieve or delete all of the iPads and devices before their exposure and shame spreads.

That's the premise. That's your three-minute trailer and, unfortunately, that's your movie. The hijinks that ensue after that randomly veer between scant hits and a majority of misses. When a man character utters the line "What the f--k is happening?" and we don't know either, it's not a good sign.

Segel and Diaz are plenty likable and play off each other well enough. Rob Lowe, who we know can do more than smile if given the chance, gets a weirdly funny part as Annie's conservative potential boss that hides a wild side. It looked good on paper, but I don't know if that one works 100%. Rob Corddry and Ellie Kemper are perfect as Jay and Annie's married BFFs, but they are underused to support the laughs. They could have been given much more. The mixing of kid character tangents softens the R-rated bite too much, taking away the chance to really make a good sex comedy. Finally, there's a great uncredited cameo from a comedy star at the end that works on appearance alone, but fizzles too quickly.

What "Sex Tape" mainly lacks that made "Bad Teacher" better was dark humor that pushed the envelope. The R-rated language and gags are here, but they have their limits and boundaries. The shock value and sharp edge are missing to make them impactful. "Bad Teacher" flipped your sensibility to have you root for Diaz's reprehensible character against the goody-two-shoes opponent. There's not that same depth and swing here. "Sex Tape" tries to put together the idea of an unseen "villain," if you will, but it's not very good and weekly assembled. What remains are the stale marriage cliches we've seen a thousand times before.

LESSON #1: THE SEX LIVES OF PARENTS AFTER HAVING KIDS-- "Sex Tape" isn't the first movie to show off this prevailing notion that comes with marriage and parenting. The lesson fits here well. This film's take on it is one of tiredness, overscheduling, and waning spark. It's not that the spouses don't love each other or forget how to have sex, they have other things that compete for their needs and attention; quite the common problem for many.

LESSON #2: KNOW THE CAPABILITY OF YOUR TECHNOLOGY-- The husband's error in "Sex Tape" which starts the circus all centers on not knowing how syncing and cloud-based storage works. It's 2014, folks. Know your internet and know your privacy settings to things. It's great that we have information and data at our fingertips at all times, but build your intentional boundaries. Don't leave this kind of filthy stuff for wandering eyes and on family or shared devices. Keep your kink somewhere else.

LESSON #3: ALEX COMFORT'S "THE JOY OF SEX" IS A TIMELESS INSTRUCTIONAL MANUAL FOR ALL THINGS SEX AND INTIMACY-- The tapped and untapped power of this old book is phenomenal. It's got words for the girls and pictures for the boys with intimacy and intelligence at the forefront. What more can you want? Do you want hours of potential sexual experimentation, pleasure, and knowledge? Skip porn and the internet and set your time machines to 1972. Buy the modern revised edition or go classic original on Amazon.com.

LESSON #4: REMEMBERING WHY YOU F - - K IN THE FIRST PLACE-- This crude quote and mantra from our uncredited cameo star is a winner to close this review. Circling back to Lesson #1, we have a married couple that gets fewer chances to shake the furniture like they used to, but, luckily, don't lack any of the attraction and love for each other that brought them together in the first place. Their passion has not dissolved that far, which is good news. You "make love" to a person you love, simple as that. Our cameo guy and this line helps Jay and Annie remember why your choice of partner matters.

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