Jay (Jason Segel) and Annie (Cameron Diaz) used to love to fuck. Having hooked up in college, they would screw in her dorm, in his car, in the library stacks, even behind a tree. Ten years, two kids and one marriage later, that spark has apparently vanished, prompting the desperate couple to film a comprehensive reenactment of “The Joy of Sex” in a bid to get it back.
However, this being 2014, their exploits have been filmed with an iPad and not on a video camera, allowing the file to handily vanish into the little-understood Cloud for storage. As a radio DJ, Jay has an unlikely amount of iPads at his disposal and hands them off to friends and family once he’s done with them, and as a mommy blogger, Annie is dreadfully worried that their three-hour lovemaking session might be seen by anyone they’ve given a device, including her wholesome new employer, Hank (Rob Lowe).
To watch Sex Tape is to gloss over the practical hurdles of file-sharing and the leads’ repeated reminders of the Apple tablet’s many merits. To watch it is to reinforce the shameful, fearful mindset with which many Americans regard sex while ignoring the distancing effect technology can have on our everyday lives. Furthermore, to watch it is to endure a constant strain as director Jake Kasdan (Zero Effect; Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story) struggles to mine the panicky high-concept premise for three acts’ worth of story, let alone 90 minutes of laughs.
Despite the occasional shows of skin (moments for which Diaz displays an Aniston-like degree of “still got it!” calculation) and the rampant profanity, Sex Tape’s antics feel fundamentally tame: she mostly screams at Jay and slaps him around, he succumbs to teenage extortion and dog attacks (not unlike There’s Something About Mary) and they together lament their plight of potential humiliation and overall marital stagnation (echoes of the slightly more amusing Date Night).
Kasdan, Diaz and Segel all previously collaborated on Bad Teacher, where the stars’ recurring antagonism towards one another saw more sparks than their supposed romance here ever does. However, it’s Lowe who proves to be a much-needed MVP, playing the same square-with-a-secret role as Justin Timberlake did in Teacher while eagerly taking the piss out of both his own long-ago tabloid reputation and his similarly buoyant persona on Parks & Recreation. Alas, once he leaves the picture, the flailing resumes.
Segel and his Muppets/Forgetting Sarah Marshall cohort, Nicholas Stoller, polished up Kate Angelo’s screenplay to little apparent effect. Side characters played by Rob Corddry and Ellie Kemper break away from the story just in time for an entirely new conflict to arise. Payoffs to the plot are either non-existent or visible from a mile away, with a last-minute montage from the dreaded sex tape itself embodying the same technological bafflement and slapsticky misery of the film that shares its name. I used to laugh a lot at Kasdan’s work, but these days it just seems easier to fake it.
The Upside: The paintings belonging to Rob Lowe’s character are funnier than most of the film’s other gags.
The Downside: The real-life sex tape belonging to Rob Lowe is funnier than most of the film’s other gags.
On the Side: One of those aforementioned paintings references Lowe’s infamous duet with Snow White during the 1989 Academy Awards broadcast.