Now that we’re past the Fourth of July, and nearly all the summer blockbusters have been rolled out (whether or not the Scarlett Johansson action movie “Lucy” or Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” deserve that epithet remains to be seen), the studios begin to unleash their zombies: Undead or misshapen films stitched together out of spare parts and driven by conflicting impulses, whose reasons for existing seem mysterious. So it is with “Sex Tape,” an awkward and distinctly unsexy farcical misfire starring Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz as a married suburban couple who wake up one morning to discover that their iPad-recorded nookie session is about to go viral. This movie sometimes resembles an R-rated Apple infomercial – Segel actually delivers an enthusiastic monologue about the hi-res camera on the new iPad – but if that was the deal the Cupertino folks need to get their money back.
“Sex Tape” was directed by Jake Kasdan (son of “Big Chill” and “Body Heat” director Lawrence Kasdan) and its screenplay is credited to Segel, Kate Angelo and Nicholas Stoller, all purportedly adult native speakers of English. None of that mitigates the curious sense of cluelessness and antiquity around this whole enterprise, which evinces little actual understanding of the Internet or social media and features a set of oddly dusty cultural references. For example, whoa — did you know that Pamela Anderson apparently made a sex tape? Furthermore, kids can do all kinds of crazy stuff with computers! “Sex Tape” feels as if it were adapted from an original Bollywood version, made in 2004, which was no doubt funnier before it was translated into Russian and then English. (That one would have featured “sexy ankle shots” instead of upside-down Jason Segel butt and Cameron Diaz doing naked gymnastics; whether those things are appealing is up to you.)
In fairness, late-summer Hollywood misfires often contain hidden treasures; when you have to fill 90 minutes or so of screen time and the story is obviously not working, anything goes. The utterly formulaic marriage comedy at the beginning and end of “Sex Tape” brackets an episode of total insanity involving Rob Lowe as the aggressively wholesome CEO of a family-products corporation that supposedly wants to buy Diaz’s mommy-blog for piles of money. (Another reference that seems ancient: OMG bloggers!) When Segel and Diaz show up at Lowe’s grandiose mansion on the flimsiest of pretexts – they’re trying to physically recover all the iPads that contain the sex video, and yeah, that’s idiotic – he seems slightly unshaven and unfocused. Lowe’s wife and kids are “away,” possibly forever, and he invites the couple in for an extended interlude that involves death metal, cocaine, a digitally operated fireplace, troubling works of art, and an 11-inch two-headed dildo. It’s as if the marriage farce has suddenly dropped away and we’ve been, er, thrust into some arty horror-comedy or outtakes from Lars von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac.”
It tells you a lot about the semi-completed, WTF character of “Sex Tape” that the question of whether Lowe’s company is going to make Diaz unbelievably rich – because nothing says big money like suburban mommy bloggers – is never answered, and his force of delirious anarchy disappears from the film. There are other smidgens of fun to be mined here, including the estimable Rob Corddry and Ellie Kemper repeatedly stealing their scenes as Diaz and Segel’s supposed best friends, who appear to have enjoyed the sex tape just a little too much. What I can say about the two leads is that they’re in great shape and seem game for anything; they generate plenty of good cheer but not much sexual chemistry. It possibly counts as Hollywood progress that Diaz can be cast in a sexy leading role at age 41, opposite a younger guy. But by the time Diaz and Segel encounter Jack Black as a sleazy porn entrepreneur delivering late-night relationship advice, in a would-be wacky episode that goes nowhere, the good cheer has pretty much dissipated and the movie’s not even close to done.