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'Sex Tape': flashy title, indecisive morality tale?

Sex Tape

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If there were ever a film that wants to have its cake and eat it too, Sex Tape certainly is that movie. There are aspects of the film that make it not an utter bomb: likeable stars that are nothing, if not totally game for anything; rather quick and smooth pacing (save a couple scenes that get awkwardly long); and a general believability about the basic premise that the central couple is in fact a married couple, very much in love, and seeking to spice up their lives.

Sex Tape, starring Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel
Sex Tape, starring Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel
Sony Pictures Releasing

The movie has a very strange general air to it, however, as it seems to have been written by people with quite varying sensibilities regarding their own moral codes and theories about sexuality and sexual norms, mores, and blurred lines over which to cross and when. Screenwriting credits are given to Kate Angelo, Jason Segel, and Nicholas Stoller, and it would be a curiously interesting study to interview the three of them and find out their backgrounds and opinions on the subject matter their film covers.

Director Jake Kasdan does a decent job pulling together this silly story of a couple, Annie (Cameron Diaz, looking completely fantastic in her 41 years) and Jay (Jason Segel, looking gaunt and a tad sickly in his 34), who find that after a handful of years and a few kids into their marriage, they do not have the same fiery sex life they once did and wish to do something about this issue. They make a sex tape for their own personal fun use, and then asininely have the video on their shared server. It then gets uploaded to the Cloud and transferred to anyone tied to their account, which apparently is many people, as they unrealistically have plenty of money and give away iPads to friends and acquaintances. Eventually the video gets leaked to the Internet, and the basis of the movie is the two of them racing to try and figure out how to get this video erased from all sources and locations it now occupies.

The story is flimsy, to say the least, since a simple remote wipe could've handled the problem from the get-go. But if all silly movies were graded based on weak premises, then that would take out a large chunk of cinema (which maybe would not be the worst thing? No. That's just going too far!).

Nevertheless, if accepted for what it is, there are still other problems herein that are worth addressing. The nature of the film lends itself to a ready-made marketing scheme: call the movie something flashy (and it doesn't get much more conspicuously flashy than a title like Sex Tape), make it seem like it is a super bawdy and incredibly inane sacrilege to all that uptight religious types might be offended by, and throw in some random character played by Jack Black because, ya know, he can be goofy.

But what comes across in the end is a fairly straightforward presentation of a rather (*gasp*) traditional, albeit ostentatiously silly, couple. They are in fact married—and it must be added, quite believably so; oftentimes onscreen married couples can be presented too broadly or lack chemistry, but Diaz and Segel possess it in strides, entirely unlike their foil couple in the film, Robby (Rob Corddry) and Tess (Ellie Kemper), who seem like they have never met each other. Their kids are not "done away with in the first half," and thus are another (again, believable) onscreen presence throughout the tale, and due to some heartfelt scenes of emotional breakdown and real, felt descriptions of their actual love for each other, if presented with a different bent, the movie could be something quite fun and lovely.

What is there, however, is a romp that wants desperately to be edgy and perhaps shocking, but ends up just being a bit of a drag from one scene to the next. That is not to say that if they had just abandoned all morals and made it one completely raunchy trash heap, then it would be great! But simply that it was so unclear what kind of message it seemed to be going for. Further still, that is not to say that a simple summer comedy such as this must have a message at all, but simply that the creators seemed to desire a having one, thus, it's a case of mission failure.

Case in point: there is a very long scene where Jay and Annie find themselves at her boss's house, in pursuit of the iPad they had given him awhile back. The boss, Hank, (played by an all too game Rob Lowe, who, lovable and wonderful as he so often usually is, here is so eager, he forgets to be funny) is an uptight wacko, who apparently loves to snort cocaine in his down time. The normalizing of heavy drug use in this scene is not really funny the way that it was perhaps intended; it's more just strange, and Annie's giving in to it, while ostensibly an instrumental factor to simply getting back the iPad, is really just kind of sad in the end. That's not because drug use is so serious and can only be handled thusly!, but rather, Diaz and Lowe seem to be far on the other side of the joke. They are not only making the joke, getting the joke, and then laughing at themselves. They're one step further, i.e., realizing the joke is not that funny then overacting to try and play it up as much as possible because, "Oh. Ha. Ha. Ha. Isn't this funny, audience, see how we get high and act stupid?!" Meanwhile, Jay is being hunted in the background by Hank's dog, which adds no comedic value to the overall disaster of a scene. They all may as well have had a transition moment afterward where the three of them collectively look into the camera and wink simultaneously. And all in the name of making absolute certain of one central necessity: "Heaven forbid the world see us having sex!"

It's a strange place to find oneself in, at the end, feeling like the movie—while purporting to be crazy/sexy/fun—really is just one more in the line of making sex dirty/shameful. The premise that indeed having a sex tape is in and of itself "not good" (a minor character at one point prejudicially suggests that it points to some underlying relationship problem, rather than simply someone's fun idea, which really sometimes something like that can in fact simply be—not everything has to mean something heavier/darker than what it may appear to (or actually in fact) be from the outset), is shaky grounds from which to begin. Moreover, the point that if such a thing were to get out into the public eye, then shame should be brought upon those involved, shame so grave that no ordinary remains of a life thereafter could be recovered, is another one that simply should be questioned from the get-go. Sex as seen in our 21st century culture, particularly in American culture, has always to recover from the shameful shadows under which it has Puritanically been placed. Of course certain matters can and perhaps should be private between couples and do not need to be shared with the world, but if a couple's relationship is that shallow that having such a tape leaked to the world would just tear them apart and destroy their lives as they know it, then perhaps would it be overly bold to say they were not meant to be a couple at all? Or more to the point, each couple is different; every person is different, for that matter, and if one couple desires to make a tape and some other one does not, so be it. Why is there always a sense that any one particular group or subset of the culture decides they can be the police of morals over any other? Live and let live. If something is truly "bad" for someone, eventually (whether by the sway of influence of others or not) that person will realize it, and the only person who can make a change for the better, is that person him or herself.

Overall, Sex Tape adds nothing to the canon of cinema, and really, could most likely be skipped. Check out another, superior Stoller/Segel collaboration, The Five-Year Engagement instead. But if one is feeling in the mood for a ridiculously silly escapade, take it for a spin—no harm, no foul.