The Cameron Diaz–Jason Segel farce Sex Tape is hit or miss, but it’s fun to think of it as a 2014 version of a Rock Hudson–Doris Day picture. In those retroactively even-weirder movies, Doris and Rock often had to find ways to put the spice back into their marriage. The couple in this one has the same problem (kids, jobs, and watching a baby “crown” can all, indeed, put a damper on one’s libido), but their solution wasn’t available 50 years ago: They use their iPad to photograph three hours of fumbling but ultimately satisfying attempts to execute every position in The Joy of Sex. If it sounds kinky, well, apart from Diaz’s long stems and Segel’s newly slim physique, the film is only sexy by the vanilla standards of the American multiplex; at heart, it’s about as naughty as an old Disney movie with Dean Jones, Suzanne Pleshette, and an unruly Great Dane. I liked its gung-ho slapstick spirit, though. No one’s slacking off.
The bulk of the movie (expertly orchestrated by director Jake Kasdan) centers on Cameron and Jason’s attempt to prevent the tape — which was automatically saved to “the cloud” as well as various old iPads that Segel’s character has given away — from internet distribution. This would seem more urgent if Sex Tape didn’t open with mommy-blogger Cameron reading an entry in which she details the ways in which her and Segel’s characters used to hump each other all the time in public. Farce thrives on a backdrop of repression, and, given their exhibitionistic past (and Diaz’s evident comfort appearing in her undies), the stakes aren’t as high as if the couple were, say, Amish. But I suppose that’s what makes it au courant. These days, even the Mennonites let it all hang out on Facebook.
Diaz and Segel get a good tag-team rhythm going. Attempting to recover the iPads they’ve passed on to friends and acquaintances, they dither, blurt out stupid things, and then freeze, amazed at their own ineptitude. Diaz pulls a lot of faces, but I find the combination of that clown mouth and Barbie body hard to resist. She’s a natural dizzy dame. Rob Corddy and the adorable Ellie Kemper are sweetly ingenuous as the lead couple’s infant-Björning friends. Rob Lowe is not the first actor who springs to mind for the role of the nerdy, bespectacled Jewish owner of a toy company who wants to acquire her blogging services (and to convince her, later, that he’s one groovy guy), but he’s in there working hard and getting big laughs. Lowe was once the unfortunate P.R. victim of a runaway sex video, so this (along with his two volumes of memoir) must be part of a campaign to reclaim his past. Second acts in American pop-culture are rarely so entertainingly self-effacing.
In the last act, Diaz and Segel enlist their two young children in an act of espionage, thus tugging Sex Tape firmly into the realm of a family picture. I’m sad that we don’t have a real dirty-movie culture for grown-ups in this country, but it’s nice that, on some astral plane, Rob and Laura Petrie are celebrating the fact that their descendants can read aloud from The Joy of Sex and don’t have to sleep in twin beds.