Snatched begins with Amy Schumer, her second leading role after 2015’s Trainwreck, in a familiar comic persona from her standup, film and TV work: the Messy White Girl, whose oblivious, entitled sense of privilege is expressed with a malice-free, faint irony. Emily (Schumer) is fired from her retail job (after a funny bait-and-switch with screenwriter Katie Dippold) and dumped by her rockstar boyfriend, responding to the slights with hurt, haughty denial. Left with no-one to join her on a non-refundable resort trip to Ecuador, and conveniently moved by memories of her divorced homebody mother (Goldie Hawn) in happier, more fun-loving times, she invites mum along for a getaway. Linda reluctantly agrees but issues premonitions about their safety, ones that bear fruit when the flirty Emily gets honeytrapped by a handsome resort resident (Tom Bateman) and mother and daughter wake up in a kidnappers’ cell somewhere in the Colombian greenery. Cue the panicked hijinks.
Despite the film’s title, the kidnapping itself acts as a device for moving the women into the jungle and giving them scary third-world men to run from when the script slows down; the actual captivity isn’t solid or detailed enough for laughs. Wandering and bickering through hostile landscape, Schumer and Hawn do a lot of reacting: bugs! tapeworms! bad dudes with guns! Snatched goes for laughs with a lazy mild comedy of disgust, mixed with occasional whacks of violence. So gross! Around the edges there are laughs. Christopher Meloni, an expert in stealing comedies with small roles, makes a fantastic faux-explorer the lost women mistake for a wise saviour, throwing out wonderful, curdled Adventure Man cliches. Amiable sub-plots involve Emily’s loser brother (Ike Barinholtz) harassing an unfeeling Department of State drone, and Wanda Sykes and Joan Cusack as a pair of vocally mismatched wacky hotheads looking out for the leads.
Screenwriter Dippold (The Heat, Ghostbusters) has a talent for building sharply-defined comic roles out of a few lines, but her films lean towards incoherent or haphazard story movement that makes the emotional connections feel unearned, switching awkwardly from gags to lessons learned. (Here, after a mother-daughter screaming match in which they lay out what they really think of eachother, and an encounter with some noble savages, Emily almost instantaneously transforms her personality.) At the least, Dippold’s writing needs a visually game director and performers open to mucking about and enriching character relations with subtle, lived details. It seems a shame to dim the effervescent Hawn with the straight man role, but she is fun. All involved though , including director Jonathan Levine (50/50, The Night Before), have done better work elsewhere.
That most of Snatched seems tolerable has less to do with the material and more with the generally low bar for modern studio comedies. The film’s faulty features — a lack of comic discipline, a story structure built around ‘bits’, a high-concept, distracting premise and an exotic, warmly yellow locale — are hardly new to the genre. But what these traits share is a lack of trust in the central relationship of the leads, and the performers embodying it, producing movies that feel simultaneous busy and insubstantial. Like its heroines, the film needs to sit back, and chill a little. Conor Smyth
Snatched is released in the UK on Friday May 19th.