When Goldie Hawn first broke onto the scene in Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, she was a highly energetic performer who didn’t mind taking comedic risks. Yet compared to the majority of comedy we see today, her sensibilities were pretty conservative in their opulence. However you perceive her style, what made Hawn so funny was her maturity in how she delivered and reacted to whatever situation she might find herself in. Even if the ideas and characters around her were heightened, she was smart enough to know when to pull back on the comedy to keep it from becoming absurd.
Fast forward thirty years, where that line has moved so dramatically, comedy has become more about who can be the loudest, crudest or most abusive, pushing the limits for the sake of pushing the limits while stepping on eggshells to keep from offending any one person’s sensibilities. Amy Schumer fits comfortably in this new excessive style, specializing in laid-back crudeness that tries to be shocking but comes off as desperate. I’ll admit, Schumer is as smart a comedian as Hawn — she understands herself and her audience, expressing a subtle, knowing debasement of the world and her inconsequential place within it. This style worked well in Trainwreck, but was much more grounded in a genuine reality than Snatched, where these differing styles keep the film from finding a reliable foundation to build anything substantial.
Emily (Schumer) is a self-deprecating sales clerk who, because she’s more interested in being a no collar free spirit than a functioning member of society, loses her job and her boyfriend (Randall Park) in typical comedy-movie fashion. Emily’s mother, Linda (Hawn), is a lonely shut-in who would rather spend time with her cats than go outside and have an adventure. When all of Emily’s friends decline an invitation to go on a non-refundable trip for two to Ecuador (which she was supposed to go on with her boyfriend), Emily somehow convinces Linda to go with her, even though she spends the majority of the first act despising her for agreeing. After Emily meets a mysterious man (Tom Bateman) at a local bar and agrees to go on a day trip with him into the jungles of Ecuador, she and Linda are kidnapped by a thinly characterized band of guerrillas. A mixed bag of hi-jinks ensue.
There are a couple of genuinely funny, unexpected moments after Emily and Linda escape their captors and head for the U.S. consulate in Bogata, mostly involving accidental murders. However, these moments are few and far between, as the rest of the film hits a brick wall due to the aforementioned clash of comedy styles. Schumer spends most of her screen time shoving her desperation down our throats while Hawn refrains from being pulled to the heights of Schumer’s absurdity by doing her best to ground her reactions into a safe zone of her own choosing. And though the two of them are able to somehow make the chemistry work well enough, the tension this conflict produces never releases itself because neither woman wants to give up control of what they believe works best for them.
To make matters even more convoluted, there’s a third layer of absurdist comedy that never quite fits in with the common ground Schumer and Hawn are able to find. In one instance, you have Linda’s son, Jeffrey (Ike Barinholtz) — who I believe still lives with Linda — who comes across as somewhat mentally challenged, but it’s never clearly defined, so whenever he’s on screen, it’s hard to tell what I’m supposed to find funny. Is it that he’s a dullard who can’t cut the chord, or does he have an illness that causes him to be the way he is? I’m fine with either; both would of work in their own way. But without knowing which one it is, I can’t wrap my head around why it’s funny.
Then there’s Wanda Sykes and Joan Cusack, who come on board as a couple of serial tourists who insert themselves into Emily and Linda’s lives for no other reason than so writer Katie Dippold could shoehorn them into importance later in the film. Cusack is a genius; she’s funny in everything she’s ever done, and this is no exception. Without saying a word, she pairs well with the fast-talking Sykes and brings a silent gravitas to a sadistic, scary character, and keeps the amusement controlled, even as the absurdity soars beyond the stratosphere. However, there’s nothing organic in the way either character is introduced, and though both Sykes and Cusack add plenty of depth to their underwritten characters, they end up floating through the script without ever really contributing anything.
All comedy is subjective; what I find funny, others may not and vice-versa. But with comedy, it’s always best to find one style and hold true to that no matter what, otherwise the production can (and almost always will) become far too schizophrenic for any one taste to be appreciated. It’s great to see Hawn (who hasn’t done much work since the mid/late nineties) back on the big screen, but her attempt at breaking from her comfort zone may have worked well enough for her character, but doesn’t work for the film, mostly because Hawn is unwilling to follow Schumer to the heights she’s established for herself. Add to that a flawed script that sits in a formulaic pocket and what you’re left with are a series of familiar comedy tropes that stick out more than one of Schumer’s breasts, unable to find its path through the jungles of episodic encounters that overlook sensibility and cohesiveness.
My Grade: B-
Next week, new movies include Alien: Covenant, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul and Everything, Everything. If you would like to see a review for tone of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.