Directors have remade their own works before -- Howard Hawks made "Rio Bravo" three times over, after all -- but self-plagiarism is a bit rarer. That's what you get in "Sex Tape," the second Nicholas Stoller-written movie released this year. Stoller co-wrote this one, which features Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz as a long-married couple who record themselves having a three-hour sex session, and then accidentally share the video with all their friends. He also directed "Neighbors," a somewhat similar movie, with completely identical jokes.
Both movies feature a couple of mid-in-life movie stars trying to get back to their 20-something fucking habits after having children. Both films make a big comic to-do of the fact that the central couple has forgotten how to seduce each other. Both films feature ragtag adventure plots that require the couples to break and enter into someone else's home. Both movies then feature a set piece where the schlubby male has a comic, sight-gag-based fight with an enemy in one room of said home while his wife tries to accomplish their goal via sneakier means in another room. (It's Seth Rogen fighting Zac Efron in "Neighbors," and Segal fighting a german shepherd in "Sex Tape.") Both movies feature another subsequent set piece where a character dives off a balcony and breaks their leg as a distraction. Both movies feature a "best friend" couple that happen upon one of the set pieces and inject a bit of quote-unquote "hilarity" into the situation via their bumbling ways. Both movies feature ironically employed hip-hop slang and mid-2000s soundtrack cuts. The two movies even have nearly-identical title card fonts.
Nick Stoller, like Apple does with its new generation iPads, sold us the same damn thing twice. Even if we set aside the egregious self-plagiarism, though, "Sex Tape" is brutally unfunny and equally unlikeable; one of those movies that only make sense if you're willing to accept that supposedly intelligent main characters have no idea how this wacky internet thing works. Segal and Diaz's characters are smart enough to create a community-based network of iPads (product placement abounds here, from Apple to "Scarface" to Youporn.com) so that they can share their music with all their friends, but dumb enough to think that the only way to delete the sex tape they've shared is manually, via each individual physical device, rather than via the network they set up themselves. The only way this makes sense as a plot is if you're a screenwriter trying to ape the set-piece-after-set-piece structure of hits like "Date Night" and "The Hangover." It certainly doesn't make any sense to a human being cognizant of how the internet works.
Director Jake Kasdan tries to do something with the material, whipping and his camera back and forth across dinner tables with emphatic abandon like he's Brian De Palma. But you can't put spicy cinematography on a leftover script and then pretend we're being served a fresh meal. The movie takes a lot from "Neighbors," but not its occasional naturalism: "Sex Tape" ends like every other terrible romantic comedy, with embarrassingly tired dirty jokes (one particularly extended one is stolen from "Clerks," which feels right, since this film feels 20 years old already), and a cameo appearance that helps to teach our main couple that they're great together and family life is awesome and everything should go back to normal. There's a moment here where Diaz is lambasting Segal, both of them stretching their faces in some weird attempt to approximate human vulnerability. She's standing in front of a fridge, and one of the kid's drawings is of a very specific food item: "Corn." Indeed.