‘Sex Tape’ is a case of comedius interruptus

Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel in Sex Tape
Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel in Sex Tape

By Richard Ades

Sex Tape actually isn’t terrible until they decide to do it doggie-style. Comedy, I mean.

It all starts promisingly enough. Like many longtime couples, Jay and Annie (Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz) have seen their sex life whittled away by familiarity and the demands of parenthood.

The solution they come up with is to record their lovemaking on Jay’s iPad. The resulting three-hour marathon has its desired effect on their libido, after which Annie feels it’s served its purpose and orders Jay to erase the evidence.

Unfortunately, Jay doesn’t. Instead, he accidentally shares the video with previous iPads that he’s given to family members and acquaintances. They include Annie’s mom and Hank (Rob Lowe), a corporate executive who could become Annie’s new boss. Panicked, the couple set out to recover the devices.

The real trouble—for them and for us, the viewers—begins when they arrive unannounced at Hank’s mansion. Rather than thinking of a logical excuse for getting their hands on the iPad, they come up with the most absurd plan imaginable: Hank asks to use the bathroom so he can search the house while Annie keeps their host engaged in conversation.

That’s when the canine antics get under way. A vicious guard dog begins chasing Jay from room to room, taking a bite out of him whenever he catches up. Meanwhile, Annie reluctantly accepts Hank’s invitation to indulge in a little cocaine.

The concurrent chasing and snorting do result in a few laughs. In the process, though, they completely derail the flick’s original premise. What had been a lighthearted look at a racy anecdote to marital boredom becomes a scattershot affair that misses its target because it can’t decide just what that target is.

Director Jake Kasdan (Bad Teacher) has a game cast, especially in his butt-baring leads. But they’re all stymied by the three-person writing team, which consists of Kate Angelo (The Back-up Plan), Segel and Nicholas Stoller (co-writers of The Muppets).

Like a stereotypical committee, they’ve concocted a mess that lacks a unifying structure. Rather than building on the theme of marital ennui, they’ve thrown together a hodgepodge of unlikely and unfunny developments.

They can’t even decide on a proper tone, ricocheting from The Hangover-style raunchiness to pure mush. At its mushiest, Sex Tape actually has the head of a porn website preaching to Jay and Annie on the importance of remembering the love that drew them together in the first place. Good grief.

Great title, great premise, likable cast and enough nudity and sexual shenanigans to justify its “R” rating. It’s just too bad the script didn’t rise to the occasion.

Rating: 2 stars (out of 5)

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‘Jersey Boys’ fails to recapture stage show’s magic

Playing the Four Seasons in a scene from Jersey Boys are (from left): John Lloyd Young (Frankie Valli), Erich Bergen (Bob Guadio), Vincent Piazza (Tommy DeVito) and Michael Lomenda (Nick Massi) (Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
Playing the Four Seasons in a scene from Jersey Boys are (from left): John Lloyd Young (Frankie Valli), Erich Bergen (Bob Guadio), Vincent Piazza (Tommy DeVito) and Michael Lomenda (Nick Massi) (Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)

By Richard Ades

Chicago was a great movie. So were Cabaret, West Side Story and The Sound of Music.

But for every stage musical that made a successful transition to the multiplex, you can probably think of four or five that didn’t. So it’s not really surprising that the movie version of Jersey Boys isn’t half as much fun as its live predecessor.

Director Clint Eastwood made some good choices and some bad choices when he went about adapting Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice’s biographical tribute to the Four Seasons. One of the good choices was casting people who’d already proved themselves in the stage version, rather than following the usual practice of hiring film stars. That guaranteed that the actors playing the 1960s rock group could actually sing (unlike, say, Russell Crowe in the big-screen version of Les Miz).

One of Eastwood’s questionable choices was hiring Brickman and Elice to adapt their own hit musical. You’d think that would be a plus, as it would encourage the movie to stay true to the original, but staying true to the original isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Not to belabor the obvious, but a movie and a stage musical are two entirely different animals. On the stage, we can put up with dramatic developments being delivered in a kind of shorthand, as their main purpose is to propel us toward the next tune. In a movie, we generally need more realism.

We don’t get that in Eastwood’s Jersey Boys. Not only do many of the characters come off as Italian-American stereotypes, but the dramatic developments often hit us without warning, depriving them of their potential power. That’s especially true of lead singer Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young), who’s faced with one emotional setback after another involving the women in his life—none of whom we’ve really gotten to know.

Compounding the problem, Young gives a rather unemotional performance in the role he originated on Broadway, though he makes up for it every time he launches into his dead-on impersonation of Valli’s falsetto warbling.

The actors playing the other members of the group—Vincent Piazza as unscrupulous control freak Tommy DiVito, Erich Bergen as songwriter Bob Guadio and Michael Lomenda as bass-voiced Nick Massi—are all fine. Even so, the movie seldom gives us a feel for what drives them other than their egos. And economic necessity: In an early voice-over, Tommy says the only ways to escape from their blue-collar New Jersey neighborhood are the Army, the mob and fame.

Speaking of the mob, it’s well represented by Christopher Walken as “Gyp” DeCarlo, a paternal gangster with a soft spot for the group’s music.

The film does manage to open the story up a bit in the first act, as when Frankie is roped into an attempt to rob a jewelry store. The heist goes humorously wrong when the would-be crooks attempt to load a huge safe into the trunk of an old Studebaker, with disastrous results.

Mostly, though, Eastwood sticks to the stage musical’s arc, which allows the members of the group to take turns narrating the Four Seasons’ rise from obscurity to Top 40 success, even as the quartet is wracked by jealousies and financial problems.

Like the original, the movie is at its best when it re-creates the band’s big hits, like Sherry, Walk Like a Man and, best of all, the Valli solo Can’t Take My Eyes Off You. Unfortunately, there aren’t nearly enough moments when the musicians are allowed to set aside their problems and just rock out.

As if to make up for this dearth, the closing credits are projected over a Bollywood-style song-and-dance number involving the whole cast, belatedly capturing the kind of energy that made the stage production a Broadway hit.

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

New York-bound ‘Flashdance’ faces an uphill battle

Steelworker/dancer Alex Owens (Jillian Mueller) re-creates an iconic moment from the original movie in Flashdance: The Musical (photo by Jeremy Daniel)
Steelworker/dancer Alex Owens (Jillian Mueller) re-creates an iconic moment from the original movie in Flashdance: The Musical (photo by Jeremy Daniel)

By Richard Ades

“She’s a maniac, maniac on the floor/And she’s dancing like she never danced before…”

Read those lyrics the wrong way, and the fantasy at the heart of Flashdance becomes apparent. Steelworker-by-day/dancer-by-night Alex longs to be accepted into a prestigious ballet academy, but she has no formal training. So how can she hope to win out against dancers who’ve been hitting the barre since they were kids?

The 1983 movie distracted attention from that glaring question by overwhelming us with montages of toned bodies dancing to a rocking soundtrack. It also captured the tenor of the times by setting Alex’s quest against the backdrop of a dying industry: We could relate to her struggle to redefine herself because so many of us were trying to find a way to survive in a changing economy.

Then, of course, there was cinematic newcomer Jennifer Beals and her portrayal of Alex as a tough Pittsburgh girl who could switch from wistful dreamer to sexual predator at the drop of a leg warmer.

So the movie became a hit, and Alex and her wardrobe became cultural icons. Can the new Tom Hedley/Robert Cary/Robbie Roth stage version repeat the magic?

After seeing the touring show Tuesday night at the Palace, I suspect it has a long way to go.

Director/choreographer Trujillo and his cast reimagine some of the movie’s best moments and add some of their own. Overall, though, it fails to make us care about Alex’s journey.

Part of the problem is the role of Alex, which must be almost impossible to cast. Besides acting and singing, the leading lady must be able to dance well enough to convince us she has a shot at a career in ballet. In the touring production, it’s apparent that Jillian Mueller was cast primarily for her dancing skills. Her moves are fine, but her singing voice lacks power and she has little stage presence.

It’s admirable that the producers didn’t follow the movie’s tack and have Alex’s dance moves performed by a body double (though it appears they do just that in one scene, for no apparent reason). But because they failed to find the rare individual who can act, sing and dance like a maniac, Alex mostly disappears into Klara Zieglerova’s serviceable but generic scenery. As a result, few sparks are generated by the central romance between Alex and her smitten boss, Nick, even though Corey Mach gives the latter a likable personality and sonorous voice.

Filling some of that void, Ginna Claire Mason and David R. Gordon do make us care about the rocky relationship between Alex’s dancer friend Gloria and would-be comedian Jimmy. We particularly care about Gloria, whose naïve search for fame makes her susceptible to the advances of C.C. (Christian Whelan), proprietor of the disreputable dance club down the street. Her crestfallen rendition of Gloria is one of the more effective holdovers from the movie.

Back at the raunchy but relatively wholesome club run by the fatherly Harry (Matthew Henerson), Alex spends her nights sharing the stage with Tess and Kiki, seasoned hoofers well played by Alison Ewing and DeQuina Moore. Moore is especially fiery in the energetically choreographed Manhunt, another movie holdover.

Not all of the show’s songs are inherited from the movie, by the way. Of the new tunes, some are pretty, and some are even catchy, but none matches the toe-tapping power of the originals.

Will Flashdance make it to New York? If it does, it will accomplish a major miracle, as it’s not easy to construct a conventional stage musical out of a movie that was basically an extended music video. The show reportedly has been tweaked quite a bit to get this far, and it likely will need a lot more tweaking to get to Broadway.

Broadway in Columbus and CAPA will present Flashdance: The Musical through Dec. 22 at the Palace Theatre, 34 W. Broad St. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $28-$78. 614-469-0939, 1-800-745-3000 or ticketmaster.com.