BY BROOKE CORSO
“Snatched,” a star vehicle for Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn’s return to the screen after 15 years, is a hodgepodge of wasted opportunities to capitalize not only on the comic talents of both women, but the story itself to venture off the worn path of lost-in-the-wilderness slapstick comedies.
The script by Katie Dippold is a series of ventures to the top of the diving board but never making the leap into the pool, and it grows tedious quickly. Dippold contributed to the awesomely zany families of “Mad TV” and “Parks and Recreation” but also wrote the lackluster “The Heat” and underwhelming “Ghostbusters” reboot, and her eagerness to portray strong women in dangerous or violent situations never brings their possibilities to fruition.
Similarly, director Jonathan Levine provided fresh, endearing takes on films as diverse as vampire romance (“Warm Bodies”) and illness dramedy (“50/50”) but sputtered on 2015’s buddy comedy “The Night Before.” To have admired their superior work over the years makes this dud of a female-led caper all the more frustrating to watch.
Schumer plays Emily Middleton, a thirtysomething retail clerk whose musician boyfriend (Randall Park, who is gone in a flash) dumps her to sow his oats on the road with his band. Emily doesn’t seem to be going anywhere in life and has a ho-hum job, but still manages to have an apartment in New York that isn’t a cockroach-infested shoebox and pay for two non-refundable plane tickets and a hotel room in Ecuador. She must be living in the Friends section of the city where unicorns frolic and angels fart diamonds.
Emily’s touchstone is her mom, Linda (Hawn), a safety nut with multiple locks on the front door and the sex-offender database as her homepage. Once Linda sees her daughter’s relationship status change online, she invites her to come home for a while, but Emily can only stand family in small increments — especially her agoraphobic, homebody brother Jeffrey (Ike Barinholtz). The Middleton siblings are just a sliver above Brennan and Dale from “Step Brothers” in the way they use their mom without acknowledgement or gratitude, and though Linda is visibly frustrated, she enables their behavior to avoid being alone.
Since Amy has two non-refundable tickets to Ecuador, she convinces Linda to be her plus-one and the two arrive at a wonderful hotel where they meet the fastidious Ruth (Wanda Sykes) and Special Ops vet Barb (Joan Cusack). Ruth is convinced that danger lurks in every handsome face with a charming smile, and she warns the Middleton ladies of kidnapping in the jungle. Barb is equally cautious but can’t vocalize this since she cut her own tongue out when she retired to avoid spilling secrets under torture (though, as Emily points out, she could just be forced to write them with her fingers).
Sure enough, a handsome charmer named James (Tom Bateman) notices Emily’s incessant need to curate her Instagram story and spots an easy mark. After luring her to a night of partying, he convinces both women to join him on a day tour of the countryside where they are soon — duh — kidnapped and held for ransom. In one ridiculously exasperating scene, the women manage to pop the trunk they are stored in while their kidnapper is taking a leak and instead of jumping into the car and driving away, they scuttle around like Stooges and leap on the back of a truck going a good five miles per hour. Soon, the film starts to mirror plot lines from “Romancing the Stone.” They even end up in Colombia with an American ex-pat (Christopher Meloni) who offers to help them get to Bogotá.
Their kidnappers, led by a notorious criminal named Morgado (Óscar Jaenada), must be from the low tiers of the underworld because they can’t shoot the broad side of a barn and allow two ditsy blonde tourists to scamper around, sniffle, and whine for minutes on end instead of handling the job.
That’s what the majority of this film is: protracted moments of Emily whining and Linda reacting. Honestly, with all Goldie Hawn has done in her career and is still physically able to do, why is she reduced to a series of reaction shots? I saw two scenes that were very close replicas of scenes in her previous films: her hyperventilating anxiety attack in 1980’s “Seems Like Old Times” and the part in 1978’s “Foul Play” where she is kidnapped and prostrate in a locked room. In the former, her character’s overreaction is used for comic effect as she tries to figure her way out of a tough situation; in the latter, she tricks her kidnapper into unlocking the door so she can hit him over the head and escape. Yes, both of these films came out decades ago, but neither scene was so physically demanding so as to not be replicated by a fit, healthy woman in her early ’70s. Instead, watching Hawn’s scenes in “Snatched” only reminded me of what she is capable of and prevented from doing.
Similarly, the setup for Sykes’s and Cusack’s characters as somewhat bumbling but earnest rescuers was cut short as they are literally driven away from the kidnapper’s hideout on the top of a delivery truck. Cusack has a tiny moment where she displays Barb’s lethal adeptness at prying information out of James, and Ruth proves a valuable partner, but they are shooed off the screen so Emily and Linda can have bonding moments. More screen time is given to Jeffrey making repeated calls to a state department representative, Morgan (Bashir Salahuddin), who is indifferent toward helping the women. The final third of the film becomes Jeffrey’s journey to the world outside his mother’s house so he can confront Morgan, who employs him out of a mixture of boredom and annoyance. If the audience is to accept that ludicrous subplot, then they could have enjoyed Linda having more agency once pulled out of her safety zone and Ruth and Barb saving the day.
More puzzling is that Dippold shows the ineptness or apathy of the supposed heroic male figures in such a situation — the men in the state department, the employee at the American consulate, and even one man who tries to emulate Jack T. Colton by swinging on a vine off a cliff and falls to his death — but then turns around and makes them the saviors as the women clap and cry in relief. I’m not saying men can’t be the heroes, but why set up a fresh and funny alternative of older women taking charge and then have the knights on horseback swoop in at the last minute (especially as they acted so unwilling through the majority of the film)? Too many creative possibilities snatched away.
PLAYING General release
MPAA RATING R
STARRING Amy Schumer, Goldie Hawn, Wanda Sykes, Joan Cusack, Tom Bateman, Christopher Meloni, Ike Barinholtz, Bashir Salahuddin, Oscar Jaenada, Arturo Castro
DIRECTOR Jonathan Levine