High-concept films are so called because they have a premise that can be easily summed up (and sold) in one sentence or so, and many of the most successful comedies of recent years fall under that banner. A group of friends must retrace their drunken night in order to find their missing friend. A laidback stoner is forced to get his life together when a woman he had a one night stand with falls pregnant. An unambitious sales clerk fights to protect his friends when a zombie apocalypse breaks out. You get the point. These films were successful because they had heart and a clever script to back up their concise concepts. On the other hand, we have films like Sex Tape, in which very little effort goes into giving the film any depth beyond its intriguing premise.
In this case it’s about a couple who make a sex tape and must race to recover it when they accidentally distribute it to their friends and acquaintances. Annie (Cameron Diaz) and Jay (Jason Segel) had an adventurous sex life before they got married and had two kids, but the magic has died down a bit since then. In order to spice things up, Annie suggests that they film themselves having sex. After forgetting to delete the file, Annie and Jay are horrified to find that it has been uploaded to the cloud and is now available to anyone who has received one of Jay’s many used iPads as gifts.
Sex Tape is similar to last year’s disappointing Owen Wilson/Vince Vaughn vehicle The Internship, in the sense that the film already felt somewhat dated before it was even released. Surely a film extorting the complexities of file syncing technology would have been more relevant a couple of years ago when the technology was actually still innovative? But even putting that aside, if a movie is funny it is funny, regardless of its cultural relevance.
Unfortunately Sex Tape is not very funny. Sure, there are some audiences that will eat it up, and there are definitely a few chuckles to be had, but there’s not much on show for viewers who want a bit of depth to their comedy. It’s as though the writers (including Segel himself) expect the audience to be amused by the concepts on screen rather than the content. For example, they must have thought “surely it will be funny if we have Segel hunting around a huge house looking for an iPad while being chased by a dog!” But if they don’t do anything clever or original with that concept, the laughs are few and far between. Not to mention the fact that the whole sequence continually calls to mind a similar and infinitely superior one in 1991’s Father of the Bride.
It’s a shame that the material is so bland because the cast is certainly game, and actually manage to elevate the material in some cases. Diaz in particular seems to be having a ball and she hasn’t been this much fun on screen for years. Segel does not fare so well, and the two lack the strong chemistry needed to make them convince as a married couple. Ellie Kemper and Rob Corddry have a bit of fun as Annie and Jay’s best friends, and Rob Lowe is very funny in his limited screen time as Annie’s future boss. A late cameo by a successful comedian is another case of a great idea ruined by a lack of effort. Why bring him in if you don’t give him anything interesting to do?
Sex Tape certainly isn’t the worst comedy to hit cinemas in recent years, but it’s just a shame to see so much wasted potential on screen. You could do a lot worse if you want some light entertainment on a Sunday afternoon, but make sure to switch your brain off first. Standout Cameron Diaz comes away mostly unscathed by a comedy that is, at best, a mildly amusing sitcom episode stretched out to feature length.
Review Score: ONE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Sex Tape is currently screening in cinemas around the country.