It’s hard to watch Amy Schumer traipse through her uneven new comedy, Snatched, without thinking of her cast-mate, Goldie Hawn, preceding down similar paths.
In films from Private Benjamin to The First Wives Club, Hawn has made a career of playing varying levels of cluelessness. In her best movies (and yes, I am absolutely counting Overboard among them), she mines a selfishness that’s usually more oblivious than malicious. How do we know? Because her characters inevitably expose their hearts while learning lessons the hard way.
Schumer begins by heading in this direction as Emily Middleton, a woman whose obsession with selfies reflects a well of egotism unfathomably deep. After she’s fired from her mall job, loses her fed-up boyfriend Michael (Randall Park), and is ditched by her friends, Emily thinks she’s hit rock bottom. So she does what any middle-class Millennial would: runs home to Mom (Hawn). In fact, her mother, Linda, already has an adult kid at home in the babied, agoraphobic Jeffrey (Ike Barinholtz).
Divorced, lonely, and perpetually nervous, Linda is thrilled to welcome Emily back into the fold. But Emily has another idea: to take her mother on the fancy trip to Ecuador she’d planned with Michael. Linda’s idea of adventure is a weekly pottery class at the local YWCA, so she takes some persuading. Soon enough, though, they’re checking into a luxury resort with a gorgeous pool and umbrellas in their drinks.
So far so good, for both the ladies and their movie. But then—against Mom’s strict advice—Emily spends a wild night with a seductive stranger (Tom Bateman). He generously offers to give them a tour of the region the next morning, and things start to fall apart as soon as they leave the main road.
For Emily and Linda, the problems include the following: they get kidnapped by vicious gangsters; have to fight through the Amazon; are threatened with sex slavery; accidentally murder a couple of people along the way; and discover, to Emily’s absolute shock and horror, that nobody much cares about any of this.
We, unfortunately, come to feel the same. At first, Emily’s blinkered vanity is pretty funny. Schumer does, after all, have razor-sharp skills when it comes to lancing hidden insecurities and unthinking inanities. (“This is something Kanye would design!” she exclaims with delight when impoverished locals are kind enough to gift her with a traditional robe.)
Screenwriter Katie Dippold (who also wrote the snappier caper The Heat and the Ghostbusters remake) gives Schumer plenty of opportunity to skewer contemporary narcissism. But whether the fault is Dippold’s script or Jonathan Levine’s choppy direction, the movie lets her down.
We learned that Schumer has the depth to carry a film in the far-superior Trainwreck, and she does try to turn Emily into a real human being. But she’s constantly fighting the film’s own superficiality. How can Emily learn anything when the movie itself proves equally guilty of viewing—and depicting—the Ecuadorian and Colombian characters as utterly foreign?
Though the leads should be a dream team, Hawn is hemmed in by having to play the straight woman throughout. Eventually she seems to give up, tamping down her natural energy as Schumer amplifies her own. It’s as though there’s too much pressure on both of them to carry an insupportable plot and rigidly defined roles.
The supporting characters, in contrast, have a lot more freedom—and fun. Barinholtz is cheerfully ridiculous as a nerdy teenage boy trapped in a grown man’s body, while Bashir Salahuddin is amusing as his increasingly annoyed State Department contact. Christopher Meloni, Wanda Sykes, and Joan Cusack bring additional comic relief as civilians whose rescue attempts are defined more by ambition than ability.
Unfortunately, by careening back and forth between exaggerated comedy and life-or-death dangers, Levine never lets anyone relax: not his ideally-matched stars, and not the audience ready to appreciate them. As Emily and Linda battled giant scorpions and armed thugs, I couldn’t help worrying about a bigger danger: if the movie fails, will Hollywood will ever be brave enough to pair Schumer and Hawn together again?
Snatched is on release in the US. It opens in the UK on May 19.