I’m a bit puzzled by the title of Sex Tape. Does anybody still use videotape to film their sexual encounters? The sex farce by that title never really engages that question, but it does engage our sense of humor, which turns out to be good enough.
Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz play Jay and Annie, a longtime married couple settled into their lives, his as a radio station programmer, hers as a mother whose blog about her parenting experiences has drawn a serious financial offer from a toy company CEO (Rob Lowe). However, their sex life has dried up ever since they became parents, so one night she packs the kids off to her mother’s for a sleepover and suggests to Jay that they film themselves doing it. The night is a rousing success, but the next day, an anonymous text message alerts Jay that the video has gotten out. By failing to delete the footage immediately, he has allowed the video to automatically sync to all his mobile devices, a problem since he likes to give his used iPads to friends as gifts. Jay and Annie spend a frantic night trying to retrieve all the iPads and find out who the texter is.
These stars know when to play the material for understated laughs, and Diaz seems most at home in a setting like this where she can indulge her silly side and play her hotness both straight-up and for laughs. She also — not surprisingly — looks good naked in her first-ever nude scene. Segel is naked here, too, and while this isn’t his first nude scene (that would be the memorable one in Forgetting Sarah Marshall), he lost significant weight for this film and looks good as well. Moreover, he’s good at conveying the anxiety that the not-so-tech-savvy Jay feels amid all the hijinks, as he keeps belatedly discovering technical fixes that could have saved him and Annie major grief.
Alas, the stars are left somewhat stranded by the material. Segel, Nicholas Stoller, and Kate Angelo are good at creating gags, but they’re not as strong with character. If you compare this movie to Neighbors, you’ll find that the other raunchy summer comedy that Stoller directed is much better at fleshing out the marital issues that face new parents and does it with considerably less screen time. Because Jay and Annie aren’t interesting in themselves, the stars keep getting upstaged by supporting players like Rob Corddry and Ellie Kemper as Jay and Annie’s married friends who are pulled along on part of the adventure. And I could easily have done without the movie’s blatant product placement for both Apple products and YouPorn.com.
Good thing this movie is funny. Jake Kasdan is a talented but snakebitten director who has made several terrific comedies (Orange County, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story) that flopped at the box office before he scored a modest hit with his 2011 comedy Bad Teacher, which starred Diaz and Segel. The director was in mediocre form in Bad Teacher, but here he engineers a lengthy, complex set piece when Jay and Annie visit the toy company CEO’s home, since he has one of Jay’s iPads containing Annie’s business presentation. Lowe’s mere presence here is a joke for those who remember that the actor was caught in a real-life sex tape scandal in 1988, but to his credit, he doesn’t coast on that. Instead, he turns in a rapturously funny performance in the potentially hackneyed role of a straight-edged nerd hiding a seriously freaky private life. The hideous Disney-themed art in his house is a pretty good running gag within the scene.
The film’s other great set piece comes late in the proceedings, when Jay and Annie break into YouPorn’s headquarters to try to remove their video from the site’s servers. This occasions a scene-stealing turn from an uncredited Jack Black as YouPorn’s president, whose long hours of watching homemade porn have improbably turned him into a fount of relationship wisdom.
None of this makes Sex Tape into anything deep, but it’s an agreeable comedy. With Hollywood’s money now being made off action blockbusters that sell overseas, its comedies are pretty much the only movies it still makes largely for our audiences. When a funny one comes along, it’s worth noting more than ever.
Starring Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel. Directed by Jake Kasdan. Written by Kate Angelo, Jason Segel, and Nicholas Stoller.