Movie Curiosities: Snatched

While Paul Feig may not have written or directed this one, the producer’s fingerprints are all over it. For one thing, the script was written and produced by frequent collaborator Kate Lippold (who gets her customary cameo in the opening scene). For another, like most of Feig’s projects, it places a very clear emphasis on comedy over storytelling. And most of the time, the comedy feels like it was stitched together out of whatever improvised takes turned out to be the funniest. However, Feig found a capable director in Jonathan Levine, and a solid collaborator in star/exec-producer Amy Schumer, and that made a considerable difference. Let’s take it from the top.

Snatched opens with Emily Middleton, just before she gets fired from her job and dumped by her boyfriend. Both for good reason. Unfortunately, she had already booked two nonrefundable tickets for a vacation to Ecuador and none of her friends want anything to do with it.

Enter her mother, Linda Middleton (Goldie Hawn, appearing onscreen for the first time in fifteen years). Linda is more or less a crazy cat lady who’s completely checked out of the world at large (aside from a minor social media presence, anyway). Desperate for someone to take her extra ticket, Emily manages to talk her mother into going on the trip.

Long story short (too late!), Emily and Linda are kidnapped while in Ecuador and held for ransom. They escape, but they’re on the run through hostile territory — including the freaking Amazon — evading their captors while fleeing to the nearest American embassy. Hilarity ensues.

Obviously, the mother/daughter relationship is the core of the film, so let’s talk a little more about that. Linda is pretty straightforward, someone who’s grown too old and jaded to bother with anything more than what she has already. She’s a woman obsessed with playing it safe, especially where her family is concerned.

Emily is obviously the more adventurous of the two, but that’s really just skimming the surface. The truth is that Emily is a complete and total loser with no direction in life, and she’ll go to any delusional lengths — do anything, say anything, drink anything, or post any selfie on social media — to keep herself in denial over how pathetic she is. As a direct result, she will directly ignore the most blatant possible warning sign, so long as it somehow boosts her ego.

In short, Emily comes up with all sorts of lies to make her life more exciting, while Linda comes up with all sorts of lies to make her life more safe.

The character of Emily fits squarely into Schumer’s wheelhouse, as so much of the humor stems from the insecurities and feminist issues that power much of Schumer’s comedy. Furthermore, Trainwreck has already established that Schumer can play a drunkard in a way that’s both funny and sympathetic. She turns in some solid work here.

With all respect to Goldie Hawn, her character didn’t seem to be custom-tailored to her own comedic stylings, certainly not to the degree that Schumer’s character was. Schumer is clearly deeper into her comfort zone than Hawn is, and it shows. That said, of course Hawn is a pro who can more than hold her own. Her interplay with Schumer is delightful, and the two of them have differing styles in such a way that the contrast is wonderfully effective. Also, releasing this on Mother’s Day weekend was a stroke of genius.

Unfortunately, the pickings are far more slim in the supporting cast. Probably the best of the bunch is Christopher Meloni, chewing the scenery for all it’s worth as a dashing jungle explorer wannabe. He drops into the film out of nowhere, but he has a backstory that’s equal parts tragic and hilarious. Which is more than anyone else in the supporting cast ever gets.

Next up are Wanda Sykes and Joan Cusack, playing two characters who randomly stick their noses into the main plot for absolutely no reason at all. It’s a blatant and bull-headed setup for a payoff that’s nowhere near worth it. Furthermore, their characters aren’t the least bit interesting or three-dimensional. Really, the only reason why these characters work is because they’re being played by Wanda Sykes and Joan Cusack, both of whom are more than talented enough to keep the laughs coming.

Then we have Ike Barinholtz, playing Emily’s brother. I get that Jeffrey’s whole shtick is to be annoying and useless and unfunny, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s annoying and useless and unfunny. More than that, he’s a painful and outrageous parody of the shut-in nerd stereotype that should have been long gone by now. His one and only contribution comes at the end, in which he makes a sequence of events merely contrived to a ridiculous degree instead of utterly impossible. Bashir Salahuddin puts in a far more memorable performance acting off of Jeffrey’s lunatic ramblings. The whole film would’ve been better off cutting Jeffrey entirely, or at least giving our lead characters some loved ones back home who were worth a damn.

But what really makes Jeffrey such a huge drawback is that he takes away from the most interesting theme in the movie: The reminder that Americans really aren’t the center of the universe. Outside of American embassies (which are technically American soil), other countries are massive places under their own sovereign powers, where American military intervention would probably constitute an act of war, even if it was done to save one of their own citizens.

(Side note: It’s been a long-standing policy that the United States does not pay ransom for kidnapped citizens, lest it be taken as reward for bad behavior. I only mention that because the film doesn’t, which seems like a glaring oversight.)

Regardless of nationality or color (indeed, sometimes because of those things), international travel always carries some degree of risk. Because the world (like life) is full of wonders and dangers alike, with plenty of new friends and enemies to be found. It’s a neat little angle on the classic “freedom versus security” theme, which of course is further expressed through the central mother/daughter relationship.

Then we have Jonathan Levine, stepping in to direct this film after making his mark with character-driven dramedies (see: The Wackness and the highly underrated 50/50), in addition to a strange little horror romance called Warm Bodies. It’s perfectly obvious that Levine was brought in as a placeholder for Feig, but that’s hardly a bad thing. Levine has more than enough talent in action and comedic timing to stand on par with anything Feig could produce with this script. Moreover, if this is Feig using his talent to boost an up-and-coming director, I’m totally fine with that.

Ultimately, the big question is whether Snatched is funny. And I’d say that it certainly is funny, even if it’s only that. Whole scenes and characters are pointless, so many setups are botched, and so many payoffs fail to deliver. Yet even at its weakest moments, the filmmakers do manage to get a laugh. And for a 90-minute comedy romp, that’s not bad.

If you’re looking for a good cinematic comedy, I’d absolutely give the highest recommendation to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. It’s funnier and the action is more effective, with a cast and story that are far more solid. Though Snatched is most likely the cheaper ticket and a good 45 minutes shorter to boot, so that’s probably the way to go if those are factors. Otherwise, I’d save this one for home video.

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