The new comedy Sex Tape plays like a series of advertisements: for the iPad, the personal-assistant app Siri, YouPorn.com, and Jason Segel’s dietician. Segel—whose dramatic weight loss has been much noted in the press—and Cameron Diaz play a married couple, Jay and Annie, who try to reinvigorate their flagging sex life by making a home movie on Jay’s iPad in which they attempt every position in The Joy of Sex. Jay carelessly saves the video to a sharable drive, and because he regularly gives away his old iPads to friends and colleagues, they can all access the file. Most of the movie takes place over one long night as the tech-savvy couple (he’s a music producer, she’s a popular “mommy blogger”) try to hunt down the old computers before anyone else sees the video—or, God forbid, uploads it to the Internet. Given all the name-brand products invoked, their misadventure suggests a sort of nightmarish shopping spree.
“Of all the cinematic genres, comedy offers the most lessons,” wrote Eric Rohmer in his 1957 review of Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? Indeed, comedy filmmakers always tell us something about their prejudices in what they expect us to laugh at and how they encourage us to laugh. In the case of Sex Tape, the good-natured jokes about the characters’ sexual experimentation suggest that we’ve grown more tolerant toward sex practices outside the procreative heterosexual norm. Yet as the movie also suggests, this development may have less to do with tolerance than with the ubiquity of Internet porn, which has made us blase about pretty much any sexual practice imaginable.
In their quest to collect the iPads, Jay and Annie discover that all the people they know have embarrassing secrets, most of them sex related. (Spoilers follow.) Judge not lest ye be judged, Sex Tape argues; these days, any normal-looking domestic life might conceal a bit of freakiness. The filmmakers also argue that the opposite may be true as well: at the end Jay and Annie break into the offices of YouPorn.com after learning that someone has leaked their video to the site, yet the owner (Jack Black) is a staid family man who advises them to “remember why you’re fucking in the first place.”
In that same review, Rohmer argued that comedy “needs a solid infrastructure” and warned that “the individual genius is in danger of never showing its capabilities if the genius of the genre is not there to back it up.” Alas, one finds little “genius of the genre” in Sex Tape. After a sharp, smartly edited first act, the movie devolves into a disorganized collection of gross-out gags and improvised one-liners. Segel and Diaz have sufficient chemistry, and the filmmakers sufficient goodwill, to make this passable, though I wish they had treated the movie’s execution as thoughtfully as they do its premise.