Sex Tape stars Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel—who’s lost so much weight that he looks like John Cassavetes—as Annie and Jay, a married couple whose homemade porn falls into the wrong hands, sending them on a night-long chase through the L.A. suburbs to track down and delete every copy of the video. It’s less a movie than a bad sitcom episode stretched to feature length and raunched up to an R rating; a viewer half-expects Rob Lowe—whose role is composed mostly of winks at his once-tarnished public image, sex tapes, cocaine habit, and 1989 Oscars appearance—to be billed as a guest star.
Making a movie audience laugh is easy, which is why laughter tends to be a poor metric for comedies. The bigger question is how the laugh works, and whether the joke registers beyond that initial response. Sex Tape’s laughs (it has a handful) are strictly extraneous, the kind that don’t depend on characterization (which is spotty) or much setup: Lowe’s Hank Rosenbaum revealing his tattoo of Eazy-E, which is never mentioned again; a character rattling off the names of real-life porn companies as a kind of free-associative interrogation technique (“Bang Bros? Bang… Bus?”); a quick, Jim Carrey-style bit involving a dog and a treadmill.
The result makes Segel and Diaz’s previous collaboration with director Jake Kasdan, 2011’s Bad Teacher, look like goddamn Billy Wilder. For all of its flaws, Bad Teacher at least rooted its jokes in the characters and their goals; here, gag and plot often seem unrelated, as though Segel and his regular co-writer, Nicholas Stoller, were trying to protect the characters from the consequences of their actions. Much of the humor hinges on potential embarrassment, but is setup in such a way that Annie and Jay never have to experience any real humiliation. The movie’s one good recurring gag is that the lengths Jay and Annie go to—snooping around friends’ homes, breaking into a website’s server room—are only motivated by their ignorance of technology; it hints at how inconsequentially plotted the whole thing is.
Despite its coke jokes and conveniently obscured nudity, Sex Tape is fuddy-duddy and focused on protecting the nuclear family at any cost. Sex is weird and unflattering, and the sex tape—and any kind of sexual activity that falls outside the usual rom-com spectrum—is presented as a symbol of desperation. For just a brief moment, in a scene where Annie and Jay learn that the video has been uploaded to the real-life streaming site YouPorn, Sex Tape flirts with something transgressive—the idea that exposure doesn’t matter, and that there are more important things to worry about than whether strangers have seen you having sex.
But then it turns out to be a setup for yet another shameless iPad plug. Sex Tape has countless “jokes” about the Apple tablet’s surprising durability, excellent camera, sync-ability, and app selection; in many ways, it’s the most-developed character in the movie.