“Sex Tape” is one of the timelier films of the summer, a sly commentary on how, thanks to the ubiquity of cameras and porn, we’re all now instilled with the desire to record and watch ourselves having sex, without really knowing as much as we should about the devices our cameras are attached to. In some cases, it’s the very software that makes those gadgets so easy to use that can make our personal and professional lives so difficult.
Though it offers at least two very good reasons not to document one’s bedroom activities, “Sex Tape” is otherwise refreshingly nonjudgmental, even sympathetic, toward its central couple’s desire to film themselves as they flip their way through “The Joy of Sex.” (That’s not a euphemism; they actually find inspiration in the 42-year-old sex manual.)
Married couple Annie and Jay (Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel) have a mighty long dry spell to hump their way out of, and they’re so excited to finally have a night without the kids they decide to try something new.
“Sex Tape” is a hustler of a film — it works very hard for its laughs — but it’s so haphazardly directed (by Jake Kasdan) and written (by Kate Angelo and Segel and Nicholas Stoller) that it can easily be divided into three distinct sections. The first half-hour or so is the gleefully randy sexcapade implicitly promised by the premise. As mommy blogger Annie wistfully reminisces about her college years with Jay, Diaz and Segel prance around in flashback, naked and carefree as newborn puppies in springtime. “How the hell do you get it back?” she asks.
When Annie nears sealing the deal on selling her blog to a wholesome company, she and Jay celebrate by packing off the kids to grandma’s house and doing it on the kitchen floor. Except the kitchen floor hurts, and they keep knocking their teeth against each other when kissing, and Jay’s moves no longer work; Annie and Jay haven’t done it in so long they’ve forgotten how. The film’s best comedy sequence mines all the possible physical awkwardness of sex into a series of hilarious humiliations while being admirably frank about how libido can disappear in long-term relationships.
Eventually, “The Joy of Sex” and the thrill of a blinking red light from an iPad leering at them from the laundry basket help them get back in the mood. Some very in-your-face product placement illustrates how quickly the iPad can transfer videos to other computers and devices through cloud-based syncing, and a clumsy contrivance with Jay acting as some kind of iPad Santa has the two running all over town to retrieve the iPads they’ve donated over the years because those beneficiaries now all have access to the sex tape.
In the wonderfully strange second section — just an interlude, really — Annie and Jay find themselves at her potential employer Hank’s (Rob Lowe) mansion. Hank, it turns out, is a pretty great weirdo whose house is full of paintings of his face transposed onto scenes from Disney films (e.g., over Rafiki’s while he holds up Simba as a cub over Pride Rock).
While the mild-mannered, Dockers-clad Hank invites Annie to do lines of coke with him, Jay runs all over the mansion trying to escape an aggressive German Shepherd. Segel’s a fantastic physical performer throughout the film, but he manages some truly great physical gags out of Jay’s pain in the scenes with the guard dog, while Lowe has created another scene-stealer in Hank.
Until the effects of coke wear off, Diaz, too, is wonderfully sexy and funny and warm. But then the sorely disappointing third section begins, and her character becomes a pill who essentially stops thinking and doing and simply nags at her husband to solve everything for her. By the time the two head over to YouPorn headquarters (with their children in tow) to seek help resisting their blackmailer (it turns out that retrieving all the iPads is completely useless when anyone can just copy and save a video file, because duh), the comedy completely surrenders itself over to formula and a very important lesson they need to learn about how to be better spouses to one another.
This last section utterly deflates the rest of the movie’s energy and its viewers of the hope that “Sex Tape” might offer anything more than its initial observation about the unreliability of technology and its one-laugh-per-five-jokes rate. It can get it up, but unfortunately it can’t keep it up.