“Trainwreck” was the title of Amy Schumer’s first starring vehicle; it’s an accurate description of her second. Co-starring Goldie Hawn, “Snatched” is a mother-daughter action comedy so crudely manufactured and laugh-free that its release on the Mothers Day weekend might threaten the family bonds of its viewers.
Schumer plays Emily Middleton, a self-centered but supposedly endearing young woman who, at the start, is fired from her job as a clerk at a clothing store because—frankly—she’s completely incompetent. No sooner does that happen than she’s dumped by her boyfriend (Randall Park), a scruffy musician whose career is inexplicably soaring and sees her as dead weight. Unfortunately, Emily had bought them unrefundable tickets for a vacation in Ecuador, and is now forced to find somebody else to accompany her.
None of her friends—if she really has any—want to go, so she imposes on her mother Linda (Hawn) to do so, although she’s a reclusive, timid divorcee who lives in her suburban home with her cats and Emily’s brother Jeffrey (Ike Barinholtz), a goofy, agoraphobic man-child who’s about as self-centered as his sister (but meant to be equally endearing). The women soon arrive at their seaside resort hotel, where Emily is romanced by James (Tom Bateman), a handsome Englishman who lures the duo into a jaunt across the countryside that ends in their abduction by a gang of cutthroats led by a sleazy caricature called Morgado (Oscar Jaenada).
They escape, of course, and the remainder of the film follows their flight through the Amazonian jungle to reach safety, pursued by Morgado. Along the way they encounter some broadly-sketched “characters,” the most notable being Roger Simmons (Christopher Meloni), an American aping an old-fashioned adventure hero who turns out to be quite mad, and another a self-taught doctor (Armando Castro) who, in one of the movie’s most appalling comic bits, extracts a tapeworm from Emily’s throat. Meanwhile Jeffrey is bombarding Morgan (Bashir Salahuddin), a by-the-book State Department official, with calls for help, which ultimately leads to government involvement after Emily reaches Bogota and enlists a couple of tough-as-nails American travelers named Ruth and Barb (Wanda Sykes and Joan Cusack) to rescue Linda, who’s sacrificed her own freedom to allow her daughter to escape. The inevitable showdown with Morgado ends the picture, saved for a coda showing how the experience has liberated Linda and made her and Emily BFFs.
There are a few chuckles scattered throughout the screenplay by Katie Dippold (who also wrote the leaden “Ghostbusters” remake), but your ability to extract even a modicum of enjoyment from “Snatched” will depend on your appreciation of Schumer’s idiosyncratic comic persona, which combines reflexive defensiveness with an underlying recognition of her own inadequacies. The result can be hard to watch—it’s almost too revealing—but there’s a truthfulness to it that might make you squirm while also admiring its honesty. She’s much less successful stuck in this sort of formulaic junk than in her stand-up routines, though, and the picture ends up as a waste of her talents. The same can be said of Hawn, whose trademark exuberance is pretty much stifled through much of the running-time, until she eventually lets loose. It’s a disappointing return to the screen after a long absence, and one presumes that the chance of working with Schumer must have overcome doubts about the script.
Under Jonathan Levine’s unsteady directorial hand, the supporting cast is variable. Meloni appears to be enjoying sending up the image of the heroic adventurer, and Salahuddin does a good slow burn as the harried bureaucrat. But Barinholtz’s goofball shtick quickly becomes tiresome, Bateman is no more than eye candy for a girls’ night out, Jaenada might have stepped in from an old Cannon “American Ninja” movie, and Sykes does her usual tough-broad routine without much effect. But Park and Al Madrigal, in a cameo as a second State Department guy, afford a couple minutes of low-key respite. The locations (actually in Hawaii) are impressive, and cinematographer Florian Ballhaus uses them well, but the transitions from them to studio shots are not well handled, and the editing by Zene Baker and Melissa Bretherton is choppy.
One hopes that “Snatched” will turn out to be just an unfortunate speed bump in Schumer’s promising movie career, but Ecuador has proven a dead end before. Remember “Vibes,” Cyndi Lauper’s debut from 1988? It was a comic adventure set there as well, and after it bombed it was fortunate she had her music to retreat to. As for Schumer, come what may there will always be stand-up.