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Non-Review Review: Snatched

Snatched is a collection of comedy sketch pieces arranged around some of Amy Schumer’s favourite themes.

Some of these gags land very well. Indeed, Snatched works best as a genre spoof, riffing on the tropes and expectations of the standard “Americans have an adventure abroad” film as a mother and daughter team become embroiled in a heated pursuit across South America. There are individual characters, actors, and jokes that work very effectively within that framework. More to the point, Snatched offers a veritable smorgasbord of gags.

They haven’t a leg to stand on.

The problem is that many more of these jokes miss. They miss for a variety of reasons, but there are two big recurring problems. The most obvious issue is that many of the jokes are entirely predictable and follow the path of least resistance. In quite a few scenes, it is very easy to tell where the set-up is leading before the pay-off arrives. Snatched is a very conventional and very safe comedy adventure.

There is also the slight problem that Snatched is trying to have its cake and eat it with some of its central ideas. Schumer’s comedic targets tend to be white middle- and upper-class Americans, the joke being their reaction to the outside world; although Schumer is not credited on the script, Snatched is very clearly trying to play into that. However, Snatched repeatedly goes for the low-hanging fruit and often seems to be playing its more reactionary gags entirely straight.

Things went South fast.

On one level, Snatched is very much a wry study of the “ugly American abroad” genre, an observational comedy about the awkward relationship that a lot of Americans (and a lot of inhabitants of the first world) have of developing countries. This is very much a staple of Schumer’s comedy style, a very shrewd tilt on the unspoken assumptions of privileged individuals. It is a style that walks a comedic tightrope, as it is often difficult to distinguish between parodies of this perspective and the perspective played entirely straight.

Snatched very clearly establishes its intent to play into Schumer’s comedic style in its opening act. Emily Middleton is introduced as a self-obsessed and immature young woman who takes a trip to Ecuador with her mother when her boyfriend suddenly dumps her. Linda Middleton has become paranoid to the point of isolation in her later years, as the locks on doors and the cats in her house attest. Emily’s brother Jeffrey is a spoiled manchild, who describes his reluctance to leave the comfort of the family house as “agoraphobia.”

A whistle-stop tour.

As such, the Middleton family riffs on many of the familiar stereotypes about Americans, and about the western world in general. The statistics and clichés are familiar at this point; approximately a third of Americans have passports, only twenty percent of Americans travel abroad with any frequency. More than that, the outside world is typically treated as a horrific place; viral emails spread about tourists adopting sewer rats and losing kidneys, while films like The Ruins or The Green Inferno or Hostel paint a hellish picture of life beyond American and Western Europe.

As such, Snatched seems set up to play on these ideas. The character arcs practically announce themselves from those one-line summaries. Will Emily learn to care about people other than herself and accept life outside the pampered luxury resort? Will Linda accept that the world is not a fundamentally terrifying place, but that it still holds wonder and adventure? Will Jeffrey find the courage to leave the house and step out into the wider world? No points for guessing how these arcs play out.

Draught jokes.

Snatched repeatedly draws attention to Emily’s sense of privilege and her cluelessness. At one point, she reflects that the staff at an old job use to call her “puta.” She elaborates, “It means, I don’t know… princess? Pretty?” When she manages to get to a phone, she immediately rings the American State Department and insists that the United States bring its full might to bear to help her cause. “We’re Americans in peril,” she insists, as if she believes that the world will stop turning.

Similarly, Snatched also mocks Linda’s misplaced paranoia. “One in every four American tourists is kidnapped,” asserts one particularly anxious American abroad. Emily quite bluntly points out that this statistic is a lie, and the movie plays the increasingly aggressive counter-argument as a joke. There is a sense of self-awareness to Snatched, as if the script is trying to assure viewers that it understands these clichés and wants to put them out in front.

A healthy glow.

However, Snatched feels a little cynical in this regard. For all that Snatched mocks the heightened fears of these Americans abroad, it also plays into them. It turns out that Linda’s paranoia about the outside world is entirely justified, and that Ecuador is exactly as dangerous as she might have imagined it to be. Although the movie offers a broader depiction of South American life in the second half, it initially seems like every non-American in Ecuador and Columbia is involved in some massive criminal enterprise to kidnap or exploit innocent tourists.

Similarly, while it initially seems like Emily might have to accept that her status as “an American in peril” is not important enough to spark a major diplomatic incident, the film inevitably builds towards a big showy climax in which a lot of Emily’s privilege is ultimately vindicated. Snatched is just self-aware enough to acknowledge these familiar tropes, but it is not smart enough (or engaged enough) to actively write around them.

The mother of all problems.

There is a tone-deafness at play here, although it is arguably in keeping with the other issues that dog the script. In terms of Schumer’s style and humour, Snatched is a much less ambitious star vehicle than Trainwreck had been. This makes sense, given that Schumer actually wrote Trainwreck while she merely served as an executive producer on Snatched. The film never avoids an obvious joke, never refuses to indulge its baser impulses.

Snatched plays almost like a series of comedy sketches linked by a thematic throughline. Indeed, it is almost half-an-hour into the film before Emily and Linda leave America. It is almost half-way through the film before they are kidnapped, despite both the title of the movie and some introductory text. It is a very loose and unfocused structure, one that undercuts both plot and character arc. Because the script treats the movie as a collection of set pieces, there is never enough time to really pry into any of the underlying assumptions.

A familiar rhythm to it.

To be fair, some of these comedy sketches are genuinely funny. While the film spends a lot of time with Emily in America, some of the best laughs come in these early sequences. In particular, the opening character-establishing scene with Emily has a really clever pay-off, to the point that it could easily have been broadcast on a comedy sketch show. Randall Park makes a very impressive appearance as Emily’s soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend, playing very well with Schumer.

Similarly, the best gags in Snatched feel completely unrelated from the idea of Americans being kidnapped abroad. Christopher Meloni has a memorable role as Roger Simmons, a gruff no-nonsense adventurer who may not be the man he appears to be. Similarly, the movie’s repeated escalation of the potential blood feud between Emily and notorious Columbian criminal Morgado feels like an endearingly goofy riff on the stock story beats in action adventure narratives.

Dial it back.

However, the gags simply do not come quickly enough. There are long passages of the film strewn with corpses of jokes that were dead on arrival. Despite its episodic nature, Snatched even manages to over-extend some of the gags that were not funny enough the first time around. Wanda Sykes is solid as the comedically paranoid tourist Ruth, but the movie is just a little bit too in love with Joan Cusack’s quiet and mysterious Barb. The dynamic is at best mildly amusing when the pair first appear, but it very quickly overstays its welcome.

Indeed, Snatched feels like it wastes a tremendously talented female-driven cast. Schumer acquits herself relatively well, throwing herself into physical comedy with an endearing commitment. However, Goldie Hawn is given very little to do in what is her first major role in fifteen years. Hawn is a spectacular comedic presence, and Snatched really disappoints her. Similarly, Cusack invests a lot of energy in Barb, but the film simply doesn’t give her anything more than a single note to hit repeatedly.

Talk to the hand.

Snatched is not terrible. However, it is lackluster, particularly given the talent involved. There are occasional glimpses of a movie that could work, but they never last long enough to make a real impact.

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