New Releases for the Week of May 3


LONG SHOT

(Summit) Charlize Theron, Seth Rogen, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Andy Serkis, June Diane Raphael, Bob Odenkirk, Ravi Patel, Randall Park, Alexander Skarsgård. Directed by Jonathan Levine

Flarsky is a gifted journalist but also a loose cannon. His childhood crush, Charlotte, is his polar opposite; accomplished, refined and now running for President. When they accidentally reconnect, she impulsively hires him as her speechwriter, much to the chagrin of her elite team. In the stranger things can happen department, the two develop the most unlikely of romances.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, video featurettes and B-roll footage here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for strong sexual content, language throughout and some drug use)

Bolden

(Abramorama) Gary Carr, Erik LaRay Harvey, Ian McShane, Michael Rooker. Buddy Bolden is one of the greatest unsung musicians of history. Credited with inventing jazz, his music was misunderstood during his lifetime and his contributions to the genre all but forgotten as time went by.

See the trailer and clips here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs
Rating: R (for sexual content and graphic nudity, brutal violence, language and drug use)

El Chicano

(Briarcliff) Raul Castillo, Aimee Garcia, Jose Pablo Cantillo, David Castaneda. A police detective is not convinced that his brother committed suicide. Believing that he was murdered, he goes on a crusade to discover the truth as his neighborhood is about to be caught in the crossfire of a drug cartel turf war. The detective will soon find himself up against a childhood buddy who is now a cartel leader.

See the trailer and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Crime Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for strong violence and language throughout)

Hesburgh

(O’Malley/Creadon) Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Although many are unfamiliar with his name, Hesburgh was the long-time President of Notre Dame whose wisdom and political savvy led him to be an adviser for presidents, an envoy for his faith and one of the most influential Catholics of the last century.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Biographical Documentary
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall
Rating: NR

The Intruder

(Screen Gems) Michael Ealy, Meagan Good, Dennis Quaid, Joseph Sikora. A young married couple, looking to move on to the next step in their lives, find and purchase their dream house in the Napa Valley. However, when the former owner begins to insinuate himself into their lives, they begin to realize that his motivations are far more sinister than just a quick sale.

See the trailer, a clip and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for violence, terror, some sexuality, language and thematic elements)

Sunset

(Sony Classics) Juli Jakab, Vlad Ivanov, Evelin Dobos, Marcin Czarnik. In 1913 Budapest is a part of the crumbling Austria-Hungarian Empire. A young woman seeks a position as a milliner at the hat store that once belonged to her late parents but is turned away. Disappointed, she follows a mysterious man who might be the only link to her treasured past.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for some violence)

UglyDolls

(STX) Starring the voices of Emma Roberts, Kelly Clarkson, Gabriel Iglesias, Janelle Monáe. Not all dolls are created equal and those misfits who are deemed not of the norm are sent to live in Uglyville. A group of free-spirited citizens decide to find out what life is like outside of town and discover that not everyone agrees with their philosophy of life.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, video featurettes, World Premiere footage and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website  </strong
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for thematic elements and brief action)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Nuvvy Thopu Raa
The River and the Wall

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Ask Dr. Ruth
The Extraordinary Journey of Celeste Garcia
Knock Down the House
Red Joan

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

The Convent
I’ll Take Your Dead
Oru Yamandan Premakadha
Red Joan
Wild Nights with Emily

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Degas: Passion for Perfection
Dogman
Nuvvy Thopu Raa
Oru Yamandan Premakadha
Wild Nights with Emily
Woman at War

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Ask Dr. Ruth
Knock Down the House
Long Shot
Red Joan

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Canes Film Festival, Coral Gables FL

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Snatched (2017)


Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn get a look at the reviews.

(2017) Comedy (20th Century Fox) Amy Schumer, Goldie Hawn, Wanda Sykes, Joan Cusack, Randall Park, Oscar Jaenada, Tom Bateman, Christopher Meloni, Al Madrigal, Bashir Salahuddin, Arturo Castro, Raven Goodwin, Ike Barinholtz, Kate Dippold, Moani Hara, Nicholas J. Lockwood, Pedro Haro, Tom Choi, Modesto Cordero, Linda Molina, Kim Caramele. Directed by Jonathan Levine

 

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating; comedy is a highly personal thing. Everyone’s taste is different. One person’s belly laugh is another person’s meh and vice versa. We all react differently to different stimuli and what tickles our funny bones can’t necessarily be predicted. I know there are things I find funny one day that I wonder what on earth I was thinking the next. Still, there are things that we can universally agree on are not as funny as others.

Take this Mothers Day comedy. Emily Middleton (Schumer) is failing at life. Fired from her retail job, dumped by her musician boyfriend and left holding the bag on a non-refundable vacation to Ecuador – Ecuador? – she searches desperately for someone to go with on the “trip of a lifetime” (Ecuador?) but none of her friends are particularly interested in going or more to the point, interested in going with her. Judging on the behavior we observe in the first ten minutes of the film, one can scarcely blame them.

With almost no options available, she turns to her mother Linda (Hawn), an adventure-challenged cat lady of a mom who is happiest staying at home with a glass of wine and a book. One has to wonder why, particularly since Emily’s agoraphobic and passive-aggressively spoiled younger brother Jeffrey (Barinholtz) lives with mom, whom he addresses as “Ma-mah” and complains loudly if his bread isn’t warm enough. Millennials *eyeroll*!

Emily manages to convince Linda to go but it promises to be as awkward as you can imagine. Linda bundles up like a mummy by the pool and slathers Emily with enough SPF-1000 to deflect a flamethrower. Linda also shows no interest in going out partying so Emily goes by herself and is picked up by the handsome and charming James (Bateman). One simply can’t fathom what he could possibly see in her until of course it turns out his interest is strictly financial.

He arranges for Linda and Emily to be kidnapped by a ponytailed drug lord named Morgado (Jaenada) for white slavery purposes. However, the two intrepid women escape from Morgado’s essentially brain-dead  thugs and hook up with an Indiana Jones wannabe named Roger Simmons (Meloni) whose wilderness experience is limited to being the former manager at a Best Buy. With Jeffrey trying to get the U.S. Embassy to mount a rescue and the women trying to make their way back to civilization with an enraged Morgado in hot pursuit with a personal vendetta, the jungle might not be the safest place to be.

On paper, this should have worked. A strong cast led by the redoubtable Hawn who reminds us here why she was one of the greatest comediennes of her generation and a director who has some pretty quality films on his resume with a writer who co-wrote some of Melissa McCarthy’s best movies all lead to the assumption that this should have been a high quality film. Sadly, it Is not.

Hawn is one of the bright spots here although Schumer acquits herself reasonably well in a thankless role that mainly consists of the actress going from one onscreen embarrassment to the next. Schumer is one of the most talented comedic actresses working today but this feels like the character was cobbled together from dozens of other characters Schumer has played over the years. There’s nothing really original for her to sink her teeth into.

Poor Barinholtz, generally a pretty reliable character actor, gives his all to a character who you just want to punch in the throat at nearly every opportunity but the character is so inherently unlikable that you don’t care if he improves himself or not. Likewise the Emily character starts off basically as a self-involved bitch but as she spends more time with her mom becomes softer and more humble. Schumer is likable enough that even in an unlikable role we end up rooting for her but the transformation is fairly cliché.

The major sin here is that the comic set pieces – and the movie literally one set piece after another after another – are mostly unfunny. You don’t expect everything to work but you would hope at least 50% worked. That’s not the case here. Most of the gags here left me completely flat. There are some that work – and a lot of them are in the trailer – but there are fewer that work than don’t.

Hawn is really the reason to see this movie, particularly if you’re of a certain age. She’s not the Cactus Flower at this stage of her career but she still has deft comic timing and a screen persona that is both ditzy and charming. Schumer and her have a pretty comfortable chemistry that makes one wonder/hope that there might be further collaborations for the two in the future. If there is, one hopes they get better material to work with than this.

REASONS TO GO: It is wonderful to see Hawn onscreen again who remains an engaging screen personality.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie is dreadfully unfunny in places.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some brief nudity, plenty of profanity and some sexual content of the crude variety.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Hawn’s first movie since 2002 when she made The Banger Sisters.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/13/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 35% positive reviews. Metacritic: 45/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Grandma
FINAL RATING: 6/10 (about 4 of which is Hawn)
NEXT: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Office Christmas Party


Party on!

Party on!

(2016) Holiday Comedy (Paramount) Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller, Jennifer Aniston, Kate MacKinnon, Courtney B. Vance, Jillian Bell, Rob Corddry, Vanessa Bayer, Randall Park, Sam Richardson, Karan Soni, Jamie Chung, Abbey Lee, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Andrew Leeds, Oliver Cooper, Chloe Wepper, Matt Walsh, Ben Falcone, Adrian Martinez, Lynne Ashe. Directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck

 

Holiday parties are a tradition for workers around the country. Some parties are staid and somewhat dull, others are raucous – generally in proportion to how much alcohol is consumed. Careers can be wiped out – or once in a great while – made by someone’s performance at an office Christmas party.

Josh Parker (Bateman) is the recently divorced head of I.T. at the Chicago branch office of Zenotek, a firm that manufactures data storage devices. The branch manager is Clay Vanstone (Miller), son of the founder. However Clay’s big sister Carol (Aniston) is the acting CEO who is engaging in cost-cutting measures to keep the bottom line looking sharp so the temporary position becomes permanent.

One way of cutting costs would be to close down the Chicago office which hasn’t been performing up to standards, which Carol has conveniently raised. Carol and Clay have had a sibling rivalry that goes back to childhood and Carol is taking absolute delight in shutting down Chicago, despite the fact that it was the office that their father ran. However, there is one glimmer of hope; there’s a multi-million dollar account that Clay and his IT team have been pursuing. If they can get Walter Davis (Vance), a representative of that company, to sign on the dotted line the Chicago office and all the jobs there will be saved.

Unfortunately, Walter is looking at other options and in a last-ditch effort he is invited by Clay to the office Christmas party that night, one which Carol has already canceled. However the thought is if they can show Walter a good time, he might be impressed enough with the corporate culture of Zenotek to go with them instead.

Therefore, Clay prepares for the party of the century with an ungodly amount of alcohol, a living nativity scene, an ice luge, a DJ straight out of 1997 and enough oversexed techies to fill up a bad porn film. Paranoid tech whiz Tracey (Munn) may have a program that might bring the company to the next level – assuming she gets the self-confidence to finish it – hooks up with Josh, while Nate (Soni) hires a prostitute (Lee) to pose as a supermodel girlfriend he’s been bragging about. Mary (MacKinnon) is the uptight H.R. rep who may be the party pooper – or the life of the party. And it looks like they have a real shot at getting Walter Davis to get on the right page. Still, it will take a Christmas miracle to keep the doors open in the Chicago branch.

This is essentially a raunchy ensemble sex comedy revolving around a party as the crux of the film and let’s face it; this is neither a new idea nor an uncommon one. Generally there are a couple of movies with this basic plot released every year – this one having a holiday theme to differentiate it (most of these sorts of films are set at high school graduation parties). This has a better-than-average cast which helps elevate the film above the B-movie these types of films tend to be.

Most of these types of movies can’t boast the likes of Bateman, one of the most likable actors in Hollywood. Nor can they boast the likes of Aniston, who is as versatile an actress as there is working today. With a cast that includes Miller, MacKinnon, Bell, Corddry and Park – some of the funniest comic actors in America – there is plenty of potential here and certainly from time to time the movie lives up to it.

But then again, the movie has a very pedestrian, predictable plot that leaves you feeling like somebody took a rough outline of elements cribbed from other movies and then stuck the actors in to ad-lib their own lines. That can work under the right circumstances but not here, sadly. It feels a bit tired overall, like something one has experienced time and time again without much variation. The jokes are fairly predictable and like a lot of comedies these days, thinks the farther that the raunchiness is pushed the funnier the film. I’m no prude but I need a little bit more than crude visual jokes to hit my guffaw button.

This isn’t a bad movie by any stretch, but it isn’t a particularly good movie. It’s just kinda there, and if that’s all you need, this will fit the bill. If you’re looking for something a little more daring, a little more outrageous, keep looking.

REASONS TO GO: There’s nothing particularly off-putting here.
REASONS TO STAY: There’s nothing particularly noteworthy here.
FAMILY VALUES:  Lots of sexual humor, nudity, profanity, drug use and adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  This is the fifth film to star both Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/26/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 43% positive reviews. Metacritic: 42/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Project X
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Into the Inferno

The Night Before


Kickin' it, old school.

Kickin’ it, old school.

(2015) Holiday Comedy (Columbia) Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie, Jillian Bell, Lizzy Caplan, Michael Shannon, Heléne Yorke, Ilana Glazer, Aaron Hill, Tracy Morgan, Darrie Lawrence, Nathan Fielder, James Franco, Miley Cyrus, Kamal Angelo Bolden, Baron Davis, Jason Jones, Jason Mantzoukas, Randall Park, Mindy Kaling, Lorraine Toussaint, Theodora Woolley. Directed by Jonathan Levine

The Holly and the Quill

Christmas traditions, established when we are young, can sometimes last a lifetime but some of those traditions, particularly of the sort that most wouldn’t consider Christmas-y have a tendency to die out as we mature. When we reach a time in our lives in which we’re making a turning point into adulthood, traditions of all sorts change.

That seems to be happening for a trio of friends who have gone out every Christmas Eve ever since the funeral of Ethan’s (Gordon-Levitt) parents in 2001 when they died in a tragic car accident. His good friends Isaac (Rogen) and Chris (Mackie) took Ethan out partying that night to get his mind off his grief, and it became a tradition of sorts; going to see the tree at Rockefeller Center, hanging out in their favorite karaoke bar (and doing a killer rendition of ”Christmas in Hollis”) and searching for the legendary Nutcracka Ball, the Holy Grail of Christmas parties in New York.

Being that this is a Seth Rogen movie, there are also copious amounts of drugs, supplied in this case by Isaac’s wife Betsy (Bell), a good Catholic girl who is days away from giving birth and wants to reward her husband for having been “her rock” throughout the pregnancy by allowing him to have a good time with his buddies, no questions asked.

All three of the boys are on the cusp of becoming men as they hit their thirties; Isaac about to be a dad, Chris – now a pro football player – having the best season of his career although it is suspiciously late in said career….well, that leaves Ethan who is still struggling with adulthood. His failure to commit has cost him his longtime girlfriend Diana (Caplan) whom he runs into at the karaoke bar, partying with her friend Sarah (Kaling). While serving canapés dressed as an elf at a hoity toity Manhattan party, he runs across tickets to the Ball – and knowing that this is their last hurrah, the three intend to send their traditions out with a big bang.

There are celebrity cameos galore, including Rogen’s bromance buddy James Franco, playing himself (and Sarah’s date) sending dick pics to Sarah which Isaac gets to see since the two accidentally switched phones; Michael Shannon plays Mr. Green, a mysterious drug dealer who might be a whole lot more than he seems; former Daily Show regular Jason Jones also shows up as a semi-inebriated Santa who appears at a particularly low point in the evening for Ethan.

The movie is surprisingly heartwarming, and while allusion to Christmas tales like A Christmas Carol and Die Hard abound, this is definitely a Rogen movie (his regular writing partner Evan Goldberg is one of the four writers on the project) although to be fair, Isaac is more of a supporting character to Ethan who is the focus here.

The chemistry between the three leads is solid and you can believe their friendship is strong. Levine wisely uses the comedy to serve the story rather than the other way around which most comedies these days seem to do; there are some genuinely funny moments as the night becomes more and more surreal (it’s also nice to hear Tracy Morgan narrating and make a late onscreen appearance). Of course, being a Seth Rogen movie (as we’ve mentioned) the drug humor tends to go a little bit over-the-top and those who think Cheech and Chong are vulgar are likely to find this one so as well.

The good news is that the performances here are solid and the likeability of Gordon-Levitt gives the movie a whole lot of cred since the characters on the surface aren’t terribly likable. Hanging out with the immature can make for a trying cinematic experience but fortunately the fact that all three of the actors here are so genuinely likable and charismatic saves the movie from being a drudge and actually elevates it into maybe not Christmas classic status, but certainly a movie that might generate some holiday traditions of its own.

REASONS TO GO: Really, really funny. Some nice performances by Gordon-Levitt, Rogen and Shannon.
REASONS TO STAY: Overdoes the drug humor.
FAMILY VALUES: A ton of drug humor, lots of profanity, some graphic nudity and a good deal of sexual content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Gordon-Levitt, Rogen and director Levine all worked together in the film 50/50.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/27/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 67% positive reviews. Metacritic: 58/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Knocked Up
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Trainwreck


Tea for two.

Tea for two.

(2015) Romantic Comedy (Universal) Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Colin Quinn, John Cena, Tilda Swinton, Brie Larson, Dave Attell, Vanessa Bayer, Randall Park, Jon Glaser, Ezra Miller, Evan Brinkman, Mike Birbiglia, Norman Lloyd, LeBron James, Daniel Radcliffe, Marisa Tomei, Method Man, Tim Meadows, Nikki Glaser, Matthew Broderick, Marv Albert, Chris Evert, Rachel Feinstein. Directed by Judd Apatow

Romantic comedies are beginning to get a terrible reputation among both critics and filmgoers alike. For the past decade or so, Hollywood has churned out mass-produced paint-by-numbers rom-coms that are as predictable as Republicans opposing whatever the President proposes. After a while, people get tired of the same, stale old thing.

Apatow has been one of the most successful directors, writers and producers of comedies in roughly the same period. He has done coming-of-age comedies as well as yes, romantic comedies and has become a money-making machine for the studios to a certain extent. He has specialized in outrageous humor with a somewhat over-the-top attitude towards comedy, with a regular stable of actors including Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, his wife Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd.

&None of them appear in his latest, which in an unusual move for Apatow is not written by him but by star Amy Schumer. Schumer is a somewhat controversial comic who went from Last Comic Standing to the hit Comedy Central series Inside Amy Schumer. Her humor is somewhat raunchy and is unashamed of the comic’s own sexuality, which is in-your-face. If a guy comic did that, it would be taken in stride but when a woman does that people just lose their minds but Schumer has become something of a poster child for being her own woman and not really giving a rat’s fig about what other people think.

Here, she plays Amy, a writer for a men’s magazine called S’Nuff which specializes in stories like “Are you gay or is she just bored?” and take a fairly cynical look at modern man-dom. When her dad (Quinn), a serial philanderer, divorced her mom, he drove home the point that monogamy is unrealistic. Young Amy took that to heart and has kept relationships to a minimum. She’s kinda seeing Steven (Cena), a cross-fit guy but when she’s not going to the movies with him she’s getting drunk and having sex with a parade of guys whom she wants nothing else from and there certainly are plenty of those sorts of guys in Manhattan for her to choose from.

She banters with her sister Kim (Larson) who is married to a sweet but somewhat vanilla guy (Birbiglia) who has a demonically polite son (Brinkman) from a previous relationship. She also has a homeless friend (Attell) who hangs out near her apartment. Her boss (Swinton) is a Brit with an attitude who is sort of a low-rent Ricky Gervais; she assigns Amy to do a piece on Dr. Aaron Conners (Hader), a sports medicine specialist who is getting ready to try a radical new surgery for knee injuries that cuts the recovery time in half.

Amy isn’t really the right person for this particular job; she doesn’t know anything about sports and doesn’t really want to, but she and the Doc hit it off and before too long his best buddy LeBron James (himself) is urging Dr. Conners to call her back. They couldn’t be more of an odd couple; she’s an uptight party girl, he’s a laidback stay-at-home guy; she is cynical and occasionally cruel; he’s optimistic and wants to help people; she’s a loose cannon, he’s a little too tightly wound. Of course they’re going to fall in love.

To the movie’s detriment, it follows the typical rom-com formula pretty much from there; one of them has to overcome a personal tragedy. The two eventually split up because they can’t communicate. They both mope around, missing each other horribly (one of the best scenes in the movie is LeBron James organizing an intervention for Dr. Conners with Chris Evert, Matthew Broderick and Marv Albert providing the play-by-play) and eventually, one of them making a grand gesture to bring them back together again.

The difference here is that the gender roles are switched; Amy is the one who needs to grow up and it will take the love of a great sensitive guy to help her do it, rather than the guy being the one who is tamed by a beautiful, patient girl. I suppose that’s considered thinking outside the box in some circles, but for me, this is merely the same running back in a different jersey.

Fortunately there are some fine performances around her, particularly Colin Quinn as her douchebag of a dad, Cena as her musclebound but sensitive boyfriend, and James who shows impressive comic timing in his first feature film. And quite frankly, there are some really good laughs here, and Schumer is often at the center of them.

I didn’t fall in love with this movie like a lot of my friends and colleagues have. That’s not to say I didn’t like it – I did – but only up to a point. It’s more a matter of personal taste for me and your opinion is likely to differ. Schumer is not really my cup of tea as a standup comic so that’s something that you’ll need to take into account. There are plenty of people who find her funny as all get out and that’s cool by me; I’m more of a Ron Funches kind of guy these days. If you like her humor, you’re going to love this. If you don’t, you’re less likely to. If you’re not sure, Google her and find a video of her stand-up performances or an episode of Inside Amy Schumer. If you find either of these funny, then head out and buy your ticket at the multiplex. I’ll go on record as saying it’s funny enough to see, but not the funniest summer comedy of the past few years by any stretch.

REASONS TO GO: Really, really funny in some places. Supporting cast superb.
REASONS TO STAY: Occasionally uncomfortable. If Schumer is not your cup of tea, you may find this unpalatable.
FAMILY VALUES: Sexuality galore, some nudity, crude language and brief drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Lloyd, who plays a friend of Amy’s dad at the assisted living facility, is 100 years old – he was once a member of Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/10/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 86% positive reviews. Metacritic: 75/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: What’s Your Number?
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: The Wolfpack

Sex Tape


Beauty and the Beast.

Beauty and the Beast.

(2014) Romantic Comedy (Columbia) Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Rob Corddry, Ellie Kemper, Rob Lowe, Nat Faxon, Nancy Lenehan, Giselle Eisenberg, Harrison Holzer, Sebastian Hedges Thomas, Timothy Brennen, Krisztina Koltai, Randall Park, Joe Stapleton, James Wilcox, Jack Black, Dave Allen, Melissa Paulo, Erin Brehm, Jolene Blalock. Directed by Jake Kasdan

In America, we really have some very odd reactions to sex. Our attitudes towards it are pretty puritanical compared to the rest of the world, and yet it is such a large part of our culture; we use it to advertise, to promote and to entice. We consume enormous amounts of pornography and send dick pics and boob pics to one another with abandon, yet we keep all that compartmentalized and safely hidden from view. Even discussing sex can bring a flush of embarrassment to our faces.

Annie (Diaz) and Jay (Segel) have been a couple since college. At first their attraction was nearly 100% physical – they went at it like proverbial rabbits. Eventually the lust grew into something deeper and the two eventually married and had a set of kids.

Once Annie had given birth and Jay had seen a baby crowning during the process, the magic fled screaming into the night. Exhaustion – both of them working and raising babies into kids – left them no time for themselves or each other. Soon sex came more as an afterthought when it came at all, and even though on the outside this was a happy loving couple, both of them felt that uncomfortable feeling that there was something missing in their relationship, something important.

Frustrated, Annie arranges to have her mother (Lenehan) watch the kids and turn the night into a sex fest. Dressing up as a slutty car hop, she roller skates into Jay’s home office. Naturally, he’s all for the idea but the two of them are woefully out of practice and they grow stressed out the more that their attempts for shagging are unsuccessful. At last Annie comes up with the brilliant idea of taping the proceedings. She even comes up with the idea of the two of them performing every position listed in The Joy of Sex

The idea works and three hours of non-stop exertions later, the two lay satisfied in the arms of the other. Sleepily, Annie asks Jay to erase the tape and Jay agrees. However, he decides not to do it without telling her – he wants a memento of the occasion.

 

That’s all well and good but when you use your iPad to record something, there’s always the danger of it automatically uploading to your cloud and if you have your cloud synched to other iPads you’ve given away – to virtually everybody since your job entails that you regularly get new iPads – suddenly your sex tape has the opportunity to go viral. When Jay gets an instant message thanking him for sharing the video, he realizes he’s in deep doo-doo.

I can see why the studios greenlit this. Prurient interest is a big motivator – who doesn’t want to see a sex tape with Cameron Diaz in it, after all – to audiences in theaters. Certainly the studio was counting on a big young male audience; after all, when you think about it, the business of essentially watching sex tapes on the Internet generates billions and billions of dollars. Which is not how Carl Sagan ever imagined that term would be used.

I have to give Diaz credit where credit is due. For whatever reason, I’ve never been a huge fan. Not that she’s a terrible actress – she’s done some very impressive work in her time. I just haven’t connected with her. However, this is a role that calls for extraordinary bravery on her part. She literally bares herself for the part – from the back – but also emotionally speaking. Americans and American women in particular sometimes have a difficulty talking about sexual issues and of things not going well in the bedroom, but Diaz gives Americans – and American women in particular – a starting point to conversations that are healthy and necessary. There’s a lot to be said for that.

 

She also has been a terrific comedienne for years and this is some of her best work in that department. There’s a scene in which in order to distract her boss (Lowe) in whose house Jay is searching for a wayward iPad for in which she snorts cocaine in order to appease him and give Jay more time to find the iPad (which is interrupted by the appearance of a belligerent dog) and her reaction to the drug is priceless, one of the funnier sequences of any film so far this year.

Segel, who paired with Diaz and director Kasdan in the black comedy Bad Teacher a few years ago, has lost a bunch of pounds and looks fit. His low-key demeanor counterpoints Diaz’ manic behavior very nicely and the two play off of each other well. That they have the great Rob Corddry and Ellie Kemper from The Office supporting them as their best friends (who use their tape to spice up their own married life) is definitely an added bonus. You also get Jack Black making a cameo as the owner of an amateur porn clip host site called YouPorn as he gives relationship advice to Jay and Annie which is normally not a bad thing but I got the sense that even Black thought the platitudes he was vocalizing were beneath him.

There are, sadly, too many shark-jumping moments. When you find out who is blackmailing Jay threatening to release the tape onto the Internet, you may well kick the seat in front of you regardless if its occupied or not. A lot of the jokes are of the immature variety and this never really rises above the level of a sophomoric frat house snigger-fest.

I do think that a truly great sex comedy has yet to be made, one that can be funny and sexy and prurient but smart all at once. Just because we’re talking sex doesn’t mean we have to dumb down the conversation. In short, I’d love to see a sex comedy for adults instead of the usual ones we get for teens, of which this one appears to be. It’s a sad waste of a performance by Cameron Diaz that deserved a better movie for it.

REASONS TO GO: Cameron Diaz.

REASONS TO STAY: Giggly-naughty in a puritan sort of way.

FAMILY VALUES:  A goodly amount of sexual content and some nudity, brief drug use and a whole lot of foul language, much of it sexually-oriented.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: These are Cameron Diaz’ first official nude scenes.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/11/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 18% positive reviews. Metacritic: 36/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Porky’s

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Hercules