A suburban husband and wife (Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz), frustrated by their diminished sex life after years of marriage and the distractions of having two young children, get the bright idea to shoot a three-hour video of themselves having sex on the floor of their living room. Then, in one of those accidents that only seem to happen in R-rated bodily function comedies that open during the month of July, the video gets uploaded to the internet by mistake, and they spend the rest of Sex Tape trying to stop the world from seeing it.
Writer-actor Segel plays the role of chief meathead and armpit licker Jay. He also wrote the screenplay with Kate Angelo and Nicholas Stoller, based on Angelo's story. Segel specializes in affable, bewildered, modern males, as in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and other Judd Apatow-produced projects. We're completely comfortable with the idea of Segel, say, elaborating on his erections or getting mauled by a guard dog. We could say that's his métier.
Cameron Diaz, however, is another story. She's done gross-out comedy before, and her role as Sex Tape's fortysomething-mom-with-a-difference Annie is her second prurient go-round with both Segel and director Jake Kasdan — they made Bad Teacher together. But we can't shake the feeling she's wasting her time here, compared to her parts in Gangs of New York or even There's Something About Mary. Her body is in great shape, but she doesn't need to build a character around that. Everyone has to make a living, though. At least Sex Tape is nowhere near as dopey as The Counselor, where Diaz dry humps a Ferrari.
There are "honest" comic situations and "dishonest" ones. In Kevin Smith's Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008), Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks ran through a laundry list of hard-R cum-shot laff cues and double takes on essentially the same subject as Sex Tape, but from the slacker/indie angle rather than the bored middle-class married perspective. In some respects, Smith's amateur-pornographers sitcom is more candid and frank than the Segel/Kasdan film, but they both have the same bromidic ending in which someone essentially proclaims that "all this fucking doesn't mean a thing without true love behind it." So they cop out and betray their ad campaigns in the most cynical way possible. Once we get over Jay and Annie's simulated clinches and dirty talk, the title is the most scandalous thing about this basically harmless comedy.
The brightest spot in Sex Tape is the plot thread with real-life sex-tape-brouhaha figure Rob Lowe playing Hank Rosenbaum, the transparently closeted kinky CEO of the Piper Toy Company. He's in negotiations to acquire Annie's blog, "Who's Your Mommy?" The movie suddenly wakes up when frantic Jay and Annie drop in on him one evening to try to retrieve the iPad with the offending video on it. Hank's home is positively Dada-esque — the outrageously hideous paintings, the cocaine, the killer dog, Hank's sleazy smirk, etc. Everything goes right back to sleep again after that, despite the cameo mugging of Jack Black as a porno kingpin and the presence of Rob Corddry and Ellie Kemper as Jay and Annie's best friends, who are just as horny and repressed as their buddies. The material may look "crude" but the concept is slick as glass. Annie and Jay turn out to be just another wholesome American family after all. Oh well.