Weekend Film Review:’Snatched’

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That’s a lot of anticipation for any film to be bogged down by – let alone something as featherweight as Snatched, a fitfully amusing, entirely disposable mother-daughter caper that’s elevated a notch by its gifted central duo and capable direction from Jonathan Levine. Schumer and Hawn know what funny looks and sounds like, and they lend their dialogue and gags – no matter how tepid – enough snap and personality to distract you, at least some of the time, from the utter laziness of the material. To put it bluntly: They’re worth watching even in junk like this.

Schumer plays Emily, who, in the brisk opening, is fired from her retail job and then dumped by her boyfriend (Fresh Off the Boat’s Randall Park). You’ve seen this girl before: Irresponsible, irrepressible, savagely self-deprecating and potty-mouthed to the extreme – it’s classic Amy Schumer, and reactions to Snatched may indeed boil down to how one feels about the leading lady. Sloppy, sexual, unapologetic about her body and its various functions, Schumer’s comic persona – similarly to that of Lena Dunham, her sister in glorious female chaos – forces us to confront gender double standards. That’s why, like Dunham, she’s polarizing. That’s also, combined with her undeniable skill and charisma, what makes her a bracing alternative to the usual rom-com queens and brom-com kings. Schumer’s presence in a movie is a mark, if not necessarily of quality, at least of novelty.

The draw here, of course, is the pairing of Schumer with older-school comedy goddess Hawn as Emily’s overprotective mom, Linda. A divorcee who lives with a couple of cats and her agoraphobic son (reliable scene stealer Ike Barinholtz), Linda is more suburban neurotic than vintage Goldie Hawn ditz, and the actress fills her in with endearing shadings. The stars get a decent odd-couple chemistry going, with Hawn’s dazed elegance nicely deflecting Schumer’s pouty quips and crass wisecracks. The scene in which Linda writes to Emily on Emily’s Facebook wall is just one example of how the two performers turn a ho-hum generational-clash bit (Linda doesn’t realize it’s not a private message; those clueless senior citizens!) into something giggle-worthy.

Stuck, post-breakup, with a non-refundable trip for two to Ecuador, Emily persuades her mother to come with. So off they go, and soon Linda is slathering her mortified, cocktail-swilling daughter with copious amounts of sunblock at a posh resort. Emily starts to enjoy her vacation more when she meets a tall, dark and handsome Brit named James (Tom Bateman), who sweeps her off her feet and onto his motorcycle, promising to show her local hotspots. Their flirtation allows Schumer to settle into her comfort zone – batting her eyelashes, chirping in valley girl cadences, twerking drunkenly on the dance floor. This has always been a big part of Schumer’s shtick: the extent to which conventional femininity is a performance, a form of deception for the “benefit” of men not mature enough to accept women as the imperfect beings – and bodies – they are. In Snatched, that disconnect between female appearance and reality is literalized when an inopportunely opened bathroom door allows James to catch a glimpse of Emily preparing herself – in the most intimate sense – for a possible hook-up with him later that night.

It’s a bold comic moment in a film that quickly moves on to sillier things – namely, a dumb kidnapping plot that brings Emily and Linda into contact with a baddie named Morgado (Oscar Jaenada), then sends them running for their lives through the Amazon. They’re helped along the way by a couple of “platonic friends” traveling together (the always welcome Joan Cusack and Wanda Sykes), as well as a genial Indiana Jones wannabe (Christopher Meloni) and a beleaguered state department official (Bashir Salahuddin). There’s one extremely bizarre gag involving the manual extraction of a tapeworm, and also some unfortunate cultural stereotyping in the form of gun-toting Colombians with long hair and sinister teeth.

Levine, who flaunted a graceful touch in “cancer comedy” 50/50 before venturing into more generic territory with Warm Bodies and The Night Before, isn’t a deft enough director to overcome the awkward optics of yet another film about white characters finding themselves in a problem-plagued developing country. But he shepherds his cast through slapstick set pieces with reasonable speed and fluency. (It helps that Snatched clocks in at a mercifully lean 91 minutes.)

Dippold, meanwhile, already has a much better female buddy flick, The Heat, under her belt, though she occasionally crafts a scene here that pierces the lowest-common-denominator haze; a borderline-surreal exchange between Emily and an inept U.S. embassy official in Bogota (Al Madrigal) hints at the sharper, more offbeat movie Snatched might have been. In the apocalyptically bleak landscape of the mainstream studio comedy, the mere sight of Schumer and Hawn just doing their thing is almost pleasing enough to get a pass. Almost.

Production companies: Chernin Entertainment, Feigco Entertainment, Twentieth Century FoxDirector: Jonathan LevineWriter: Katie DippoldCast: Amy Schumer, Goldie Hawn, Joan Cusack, Ike Barinholtz, Wanda Sykes, Christopher Meloni, Tom Bateman, Oscar Jaenada, Randall Park, Bashir Salahuddin, Al Madrigal, Kevin KaneProducers: Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping, Paul Feig, Jesse HendersonExecutive producers: Kim Caramele, Tonia DavisProduction designer: Mark RickerDirector of photography: Florian BallhausMusic: Chris Bacon, Theodore ShapiroEditors: Zene Baker, Melissa Bretherton Rated R, 91 minutes.

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