Here’s one to watch, laugh at, and forget. Emily Middleton (Amy Schumer), dumped by her musician boyfriend right before a planned (and non-refundable) vacation for two in Ecuador, opts to bring along her overprotective mother, Linda (Goldie Hawn), only to get herself and her mom kidnapped for ransom on their first trip outside the resort. That’s nothing to worry about, though, as mother and daughter quickly escape their captors and proceed to bump into one oddball after another as they try to make their way to an American embassy in Bogotá, Colombia. Written by Katie Dippold (The Heat, last year’s Ghostbusters) and directed by Jonathan Levine (The Night Before), Snatched is a movie in the flimsiest sense; in terms of craftsmanship, the best that can be said is that it clears the very low bar set by the typo in the expository opening crawl. (Which raises the question: Why does a movie like Snatched have an opening crawl?) But it stands apart from the majority of R-rated, coprolalic studio comedies simply by being fast-paced and, on occasion, pretty funny.
Schumer still makes for an awkward lead, as her comedic shtick (she’s cast here as—surprise—a whiny, shallow, cocktail-sucking New Yorker) doesn’t translate into acting chops. And seeing as she was continually upstaged by Bill Hader’s Bruce Dern impression in the enjoyable Trainwreck, she is destined to be out-acted by Hawn here; one would barely know that this is the older actor’s first movie in 15 years, as she slips into the sparkly cat T-shirt of the prototypical voicemail-leaving, Facebook-commenting lonely mom as effortlessly as she did into any of her comic roles. The relationship between Emily and Linda is never really believable (the movie barely establishes it before jetting off to Ecuador), but Snatched rarely requires its two stars to do much besides rib each other and bounce off of eccentric supporting characters, beginning with Emily’s brother, Jeffrey (Ike Barinholtz), a fortyish agoraphobe with a Dahmer-esque glasses-and-haircut combo who still lives with Linda and gives piano lessons for a living.
The structure might be called an improvement over Dippold’s scripts for Paul Feig, who produced Snatched; it does away with the dull straight man of a plot, instead playing the women’s kidnappers and equally ineffectual rescuers—including a fanny-pack-wearing, over-prepared fellow vacationer (Wanda Sykes) who comes across as a rejected Melissa McCarthy cameo—for laughs. This at least offsets some of the scaremongering of the “kidnapped abroad” premise. But it’s still unbalanced. The extended early stretch at the resort is essentially a warmed-over, less biting Schumer solo set, rattling off jokes about trashy tattoos, partying too hard, and awkwardly flirting with hot guys. (However, the movie at least finds time for a decent boob gag that finds the comedian walking the walk in addition to talking the talk of self-deprecating raunch.) The whole film is wobbly enough that many of scenes could be moved or cut altogether with no effect, with one obvious example being a stop-over in a village, where Snatched makes some half-assed attempts to paint Emily’s largely unsympathetic character in a better light and tries (and fails) to mount a gross-out slapstick bit with a cheap-looking CGI tapeworm.
But this creates an opportunity for assorted kooky and ineffectual bit players to steal the spotlight: Christopher Meloni as the clueless adventurer who volunteers to be Linda and Emily’s guide in the Colombian jungle; Randall Park as Emily’s boyfriend; and especially Bashir Salahuddin, a veteran late-night comedy writer who previously played Malik on HBO’s Looking, as the blasé State Department functionary forced to field Linda, Emily, and Jeffrey’s panicked phone calls. (“Sir, were you born in the 1970s?” he says to Jeffrey after being explained a rescue plan clearly inspired by The A-Team, with the air of a tech-support center employee asking if the caller had tried restarting.) Levine, who started his career with the long-shelved indie thriller All The Boys Love Mandy Lane before moving on to forgotten dramedies like The Wackness and 50/50, directs Snatched as though he were asked to demonstrate the meaning of “anonymous journeyman” to a class of film students. When Emily makes a fool of herself dancing, it’s in slow motion; when mother and daughter leave for vacation, it’s conveyed by a montage of stock shots of countrysides and airplanes; and so on. It works just well enough not to ruin most of the jokes, but one can’t help but notice that more effort seems to have been put into the end-credits typography than into any shot in the film.