Snatched, starring Amy Schumer and a woefully underused Goldie Hawn, takes a kind of lame premise — a mother and daughter go to Ecuador for vacation and get kidnapped, escape, and accidentally kill some guys along the way, whoops! — and squeezes something kind of funny out of it. As a lightweight entry in the “ugly American abroad” genre, it’s not terrible … as long as you can stop thinking about how much better it could have been.
Schumer, recently a comedy darling and even more recently kind of problematic, last starred on the big screen in the well-reviewed Trainwreck. Snatched is no Trainwreck, but it does showcase Schumer’s best talents: playing a privileged, oblivious knockabout with a heart of tarnished gold. There’s an extra layer to her performances, in that we’re supposed to be in on the joke — she actually is this person, and yet she’s also aware of it, so it’s extra funny. You have to buy into that comedic approach for Snatched to work — when it works at all.
Snatched has a killer cast that it uses well, with one notable exception
Snatched rides on Schumer’s comic timing, which is mostly very good. (The opening scene, in which she’s telling another woman in a mall store about her upcoming vacation, could stand alone as a good Inside Amy Schumer sketch.) And the film is peppered with hilarious supporting performances, including Wanda Sykes and Joan Cusack as intrepid world travelers and Bashir Salahuddin as a pitch-perfect bureaucrat at the State Department.
But Snatched’s excellent casting also highlights the most baffling thing about the movie: Someone had the good sense to cast Goldie Hawn in this movie as Schumer’s mother, which on the surface looks like a stroke of genius. Hawn is a hilarious actress with serious comedy chops, she definitely looks like she could be related to Schumer, and Snatched is Hawn’s first film role in 15 years. Unfortunately, Snatched casts her in the role of the straight (wo)man, the voice of reason and caution to her daughter’s high-spirited hijinks. It’s a bad choice that flattens the movie, like someone sucked the wind out of the room.
Schumer, on the other hand, gets to be funny as Emily, newly single and at a dead end, having been fired from her retail job and not harboring a lot of ambitions at age 28. (“We still have two years left,” her mother tells her when her boyfriend breaks up with her.) Emily’s breakup leaves her holding a pair of nonrefundable tickets to a resort in Ecuador, a location she and her ex chose because they’re not a pair of “white assholes,” as she tells someone (a line that gets much funnier when the ex turns out to be Randall Park).
Wheels spinning, she goes to visit her mom Linda (Hawn), who lives in the suburbs with Emily’s agoraphobic brother Jeremy (Ike Barinholtz), a piano teacher who for no particular reason calls Linda “mama,” like he’s British royalty. After she chances on a photo album of Linda’s pre-baby days, when she was an adventurous risk-taker, Emily decides her mom ought to accompany her on this vacation.
But Linda’s not a risk-taker anymore (we get the impression she lost some of that fearlessness after her divorce), so she’s reticent to go to South America, and isn’t sure her daughter should go, either. But Emily insists, casting the trip as a feminist act that honors the independent women of the world, and Linda caves.
From the text on screen at the start of the movie, we know the pair are going to be kidnapped once they get to Ecuador. The question is how, and when. Before then, though, Emily saunters up to the poolside bar, where she meets James (Tom Bateman), a remarkably hot adventurer who’s definitely into her. He takes her out one night and invites both Emily and Linda on an adventure the next morning.
And boy, do they get an adventure.
Though Snatched starts strong, it soon devolves into a series of slapsticky set pieces that vary in hilarity, ranging from Christopher Meloni masquerading as an Indiana Jones type to a gag-worthy bit with a tapeworm. Still, by the end, the clever-joke-to-huh? ratio stays in favor of the jokes. And while it’s not a great studio comedy, and doesn’t have the emotional resonance of a film like Trainwreck, it’s still pretty funny. (Writer Katie Dippold, who worked on Parks and Recreation, also wrote The Heat and co-wrote last summer’s Ghostbusters.)
Snatched is about Americans wreaking havoc abroad — and its conclusion is totally unsatisfactory
That leaves us with one question: Is it cool to make a comedy about Americans wreaking havoc abroad, however accidental?
It’s honestly a bit hard to say. Snatched is banal and lightweight enough — and Linda and Emily are obviously the target of its jokes — that it hardly seems to matter.
Then again, the film ends in that most frustrating of clichés: Sure, they messed a lot of things up, but it was a bonding time! They became more self-actualized! Using other people’s culture to make yourself better is an ethically murky thing to do, and I think the movie knows this is the case; there are hints throughout, and the end of the film could be making fun of itself.
But the screenplay also feels like it’s been smoothed out into a happy ending to please a broad audience, instead of something that matches the biting comedy of Snatched’s first half hour, which promised satire instead of slapstick. Lacking that bite, the film just sort of coasts blandly over the finish line.
Then again, last year was downright dismal for studio comedies (with the notable exception of Popstar), especially the R-rated variety, and Snatched lands more of its jokes than it flubs. And though it’s nearly unforgivable that the film ignores Hawn, Snatched rescues itself by giving its talented cast a lot to work with. It may not have any lessons to teach — except maybe to love your mom and watch out for strangers when you travel — but it’s banal enough. Let it have its jokes, and ignore how much better it could have been.
Snatched releases in theaters on May 12.