Quick, what was your favorite scene in Caddyshack? Is it Bill Murray’s Dalai Lama story? Rodney Dangerfield working the dance floor? The golf game in the thunderstorm? Ty flirting with Lacey Underall? The candy bar in the swimming pool? All viable options. You know what I bet you didn’t say? The part where Danny Noonan and Maggie discuss her pregnancy. It’s one of those inexplicable scenes where the filmmakers decided they had to tackle serious emotional issues, or give audiences a chance to catch their breath, or signal the smokers to run out and grab a puff, or who knows what. But I think of that scene every time a contemporary comedy tries to pause itself in the third act to land some emotional resonance, because they so rarely land it. And I thought of it in Snatched, which begins as a very funny inter-generational comedy, before it’s sidetracked by an overactive plot and a soft spot for mother-daughter reconciliation.
The good stuff, however, is worth acknowledging. The big sell of Snatched is its onscreen teaming of current fave blonde funny lady Amy Schumer with earlier fave blonde funny lady Goldie Hawn; Schumer is cast, much in the mold of Trainwreck, as a hard-partying fuck-up, while Hawn plays her sensible yet clingy mother. This is Hawn’s first film appearance in a decade and a half, since 2002’s The Banger Sisters, and you sense that writer Katie Dippold and director Jonathan Levine are fully aware of how much goodwill we bring to a Hawn movie, particularly since we haven’t had one in so long. When Schumer finds her mom’s old scrapbooks, the photos of Laugh-In era Goldie do a number on us, too; we want them to be good together, and they genuinely are. Their dynamic is credible, one comprised of equal parts affection and exhaustion, and Schumer works out a distinct but equally amusing back-and-forth with Ike Barinholtz, as her irritating, agoraphobic brother.
Schumer and Hawn’s chemistry is so easy-going – and so impressive is Schumer’s ability, in her solo scenes, to get laughs with even the throwaway lines – that Snatched rolls along for the first third or so feeling like a great movie comedy, stacking one great gag on top of the next as Schumer, desperately lonely after a sudden break-up and stuck with a pair of non-refundable airline tickets and a booking at an Ecuadoran resort, talks her mom into coming with. But then, as we know from the trailers and the title, the pair are kidnapped (by some queasily stereotypical Latinos), kicking off a cycle of panicky encounters, escape attempts, and accidental deaths (the body count is much higher than you’d expect from a sunny summer comedy).
The trouble is, much of this peril is played straight, which ends up dislodging the mood so jarringly, our charismatic heroines have to struggle to keep the movie on the road. In a recent Tribeca Talk, Snatched producer Paul Feig (who also directed Dippold’s earlier, better buddy action/comedy, The Heat) noted the importance of “real stakes” in comedy, insisting, “You need those stakes! You want to be worried. That fear makes the comedy funnier.” And maybe that’s true – it’s worked in the films he’s directed – but that’s the kind of thinking that also led to puzzling, atonal detours in otherwise breezy ‘80s comedies, like the drug dealers in Three Men and a Baby or the spy stuff in Outrageous Fortune. Sometimes a filmmaker is good enough to work those left-turns in, but in Snatched, it stops the movie cold. Who wouldn’t rather just see a funny movie about these two characters on vacation?
That question bears repeating when we get to the inevitable serious familial relationship interlude, which comes quite out of nowhere and lands with a thud, all plinky piano music and misty-eyed pronouncements as these two yell through their issues while standing in the middle of the jungle. It’s sure as hell not funny, but it’s not warm or genuine either – it feels like a box being checked, a studio note that we need real emotional stakes too, no matter how unearned they may be, or how unlikely the thinly-drawn characters are to support them. Who looks back on these scenes fondly? Who cares? And how on earth do those emotional beats jibe with the delightful absurdism of something like the big comic set piece that follows, in which a giant (and I mean giant) tapeworm is extracted from a wide-eyed Schumer?
Is easy to blame these notes of drama and tenderness on the Age of Apatow – and the show, Freaks of Geeks, that he and Feig collaborated on before it – but this stuff goes back much further than that; hell, there were serious romantic subplots fucking up the rhythm of Marx Brothers movies all the way back in 1929. But the fact that it’s always done, and is expected, doesn’t make it smart. There’s a lot to recommend in Snatched: Schumer and Hawn’s easy chemistry, the Hope-and-Crosby vibe they get going in the jungle, Joan Cusack’s excellent schtick in the climax, and a scene-stealing turn by Bashir Salahuddin, the best slow-burn artist this side of Edgar Kennedy. (Also worth applause: its 91-minute running time.) But the recycled plot mechanics and sappy sidebars keep gumming up the works. Why are people afraid to just make a goddamn comedy?
Snatched is out Friday.