‘Sex Tape’: Old name, old idea, but kind of a fun film

By Gary Clift

There is usually something significant about the language we choose to use. Well, despite the “digital revolution,” we are still, apparently, choosing to call audio-video recordings “sex tapes.”

So, six years after “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” Hollywood is offering us the new screen comedy “Sex Tape.” Old name. Old idea. But the new movie is still kind of fun.

It begins with the eternally youthful Cameron Diaz playing Annie, a stay-at-home mother of two kids, the older one just about to “graduate” from the fourth grade. Annie has been amusing herself by writing her observations about child rearing and posting them on what I think we still call the Internet.

Now she has a chance to sell the on-going “blog” to a company that makes children’s products, a famous old company. She meets with its cliché board, but the meeting is interrupted by a visit from owner Hank (Rob Lowe, who has the best character in the film). Hank is a sort of Bill Gates dweeb. More about him later.

Annie’s husband Jay (co-writer Jason Segal minus about thirty pounds) is in the habit of giving acquaintances i-Pads. His motivations and his income are buried in the deep weeds of technology. Annie has given Hank one of Jay’s i-Pads as a present.

Now. The married couple has gotten out of the habit of having marital relations. Annie drops the kids off with her clueless mother and suggests to her husband that they have a sporting evening. But they don’t really get inspired until she suggests they “film” themselves working their way through positions from “The Joy of Sex.”

Ticket-holders aren’t immediately shown the video, but the narrative hook is set the next day when Jay receives an anonymous note on his phone. Someone has seen the video. It seems that a new program Jay loaded on his touch-screen computer has sent the private sex tape off to owners of the i-Pads he and Annie have given away.

They begin trying to retrieve the electronic units, and one of the first ones they go after is the one Annie gave Hank. They arrive at his front door, pretending to be collecting for a charity they have to make up on the spot (a fund to research children’s enlarged kidneys is the one Jay offers). They get inside Hank’s palatial home—his family is off visiting relations.

What happens here tells us something about the way stage and movie comedies work. It may not be funny that Jay and Annie pretend to be collecting for a charity. It may not be funny that Jay, supposedly suffering from diarrhea, goes off to search for the tablet.

Maybe Hank’s creepy paintings of himself as a figure in famous children’s stories (“The Lion King” is one) and his love of the music of Slayer and his offer to share lines of cocaine with Annie don’t seem funny. Maybe it isn’t funny that Hank’s police dog chases Jay around the house or that Jay asks the internet to tell him how to give CPR to a dog once he has led the canine into a trap involving a treadmill.

The other couple who are supposedly helping Annie and Jay (Rod Corddry and Ellie Kemper) show up at the front door announcing that they are collecting used tablets for charity, and maybe that isn’t funny by itself, either. But having all these things going on at once is somehow amusing. After the first chuckle of surprise, the film has the comedy rolling downhill.

The rest of the story is even a little more predictable, I thought. Uncredited Jack Black has a decent turn as a porn website owner. There is the inevitable scene at the graduation ceremony. And then there’s a lengthy denouement when Annie fast-forwards through the “sex tape,” watching herself wear a viking beard and doing a forward somersault mount.

I don’t know how much of this stuff is actually funny and how much of it simply keeps the good feeling going from the scene at Hank’s house. Either way, the movie is amusing, if coarse. It ain’t art. But it won’t bore anyone much. Oh, maybe some people.

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