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‘Sex Tape’ Whiffs Despite Funny Setup

Ever since Cameron Diaz starred in breakout comedy hit “There’s Something About Mary,” she’s been one of the go-to actresses for adult-geared comedy – for better or for worse. With “Sex Tape,” we end up with a promising idea gone completely sour, an amalgamation of lazy jokes and flat-out wackiness that might be difficult to engage with for anyone sick of the tired routine of sex jokes. Even Jason Segel, who is often very funny, struggles to turn an eye-rolling screenplay into anything other than a mess, leaving us with a lame and often irritating comedy that wastes its potential by playing it far too safe.

At this point, the idea of the sex tape has permeated life in the digital age in a way that makes it practically a cultural phenomenon. Writers Kate Angelo, Nicholas Stoller and Segel are certainly banking on everyone knowing the basics of what constitutes a sex tape, mainly so there doesn’t have to be a great deal of story-building. “Sex Tape” stars Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel as Annie and Jay, a fun couple struggling with the transition from the passionate days of college to the suffocating monotony of everyday life starting a family. Now looking to rejuvenate the physical part of their relationship, Annie decides that they’re in need of a major spark that shakes them out of tedious lives.

Considering the movie is called “Sex Tape,” it’s not exactly difficult to imagine what she comes up with. After filming themselves having sex in all different types of positions (which I’m pretty sure was supposed to be funny), Annie and Jay finally call it a night and go to bed thinking that they’ve just saved their relationship. But no, instead of a night of goofy and strange lovemaking, poor Jay has managed to send the recording to a whole slew of acquaintances, making for a few terrifying moments as they realize what they’ve done.

Even though Diaz and Segel manage a few laughs as they imagine the swelling storm of being a couple with a public sex tape, the momentum doesn’t last and soon “Sex Tape” begins to work with distracting lapses in logic. Comedies often have gaps in logic, of course, though it’s easy to get away with it when the plot doesn’t depend on them. In “Sex Tape,” our couple has, bizarrely, been handing out iPads to just about everyone they know, once they’ve moved on to the next model. Even to the mailman. Why? Because there needed to be a joke about sending a sex tape to the mailman. More than that, they even have it set up so their iPads are all linked together, which apparently nobody has really noticed before. Essentially, Annie and Jay have been setting themselves up for this for a long time at this point, and the comedic setup is so transparent and manipulative that it undercuts the entire story.

Logical gaps aren’t the only things plaguing “Sex Tape,” however. As Annie and Jay go on their mission to destroy all of the evidence of their tape and make sure that the wider world doesn’t see it, they bumble from one absolute debacle to another reaching for laughs with escalating slapstick as their only backup. When their adventure leads them to break into the mansion of Annie’s boss Hank (Rob Lowe), there’s a sliver of hope that they have stumbled onto something, but “Sex Tape” immediately resorts back to lazy gags like attacking guard dogs and the straight-laced boss really being a coke fiend. And don’t forget about the myriad of sex jokes, which tend to be of the recycled and painfully obvious variety.

There were plenty of gags in “There’s Something About Mary” that involved genitals and bodily functions, but the Farrelly Brothers (who wrote and directed) seemed to understand that those two things aren’t funny on their own. When Ben Stiller has his infamous “beans and frank” mishap before the prom in that film, it set off a series of events that sent the movie off into to unexpected and hilarious situations that were difficult to anticipate. Here, once the big joke is unveiled, there’s really nothing left for “Sex Tape” to do but grasp for one-liners and cram in as much over-the-top slapstick as possible.

Instead of finding a unique and somewhat practical premise to explore the switch from hot-and-heavy to married with kids, like this summer’s “Neighbors” did, “Sex Tape” seems to be content with slapping together a story made out of duct tape and super glue. Though Diaz and Segel do what they can with very little, “Sex Tape” is a forgettable adult comedy that sinks itself by forgetting to do more than come up with a concept for a movie.

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