The film that lures Goldie Hawn, last seen with Susan Sarandon in 2002’s maligned The Bangor Sisters, back to the limelight ought to be a special one. Likewise, the new feature starring Amy Schumer, a comic surprisingly divisive based on her most recent turn in Judd Apatow’s terrific Trainwreck, should easily be a hoot. Jonathan Levine’s Snatched, penned by The Heat and Ghostbusters writer Katie Dippold, is however neither special nor, more’s the pity, anywhere near to being a hoot. That the talent’s on board is without a doubt; it’s just hard not to expect so much better and want for so much more.
One instant asset to Snatched, the story of a woman who takes her mother on a couples getaway to Ecuador after being dumped by her intended-companion of a boyfriend, is that Schumer (playing Emily) and Hawn (Linda) have a chemistry that nails the familial relationship right from the off. In appearance alone the pair’s physiognomic similarities are clear but who could have predicted that these generationally separated stars of very different epochs would present so natural a bond? Emily, rather like Schumer’s Trainwreck turn as Amy, is emotionally hopeless, her early scenes are funny by virtue of their exposing the fallibilities of life as a child who never really grew up. Linda might have her emotions in check but has aged to become an overcautious mother hen and lonely cat-lady. There’s a brother too, Jeffrey (Ike Barinholtz), but he’s an agoraphobic man child who still refers to his mother as ‘Ma-ma’ – the stress being irritatingly on the second ‘ma’.
Snatched first misstep comes when it falls in to that so common of comedy film traps, particularly action/adventure ones, the issue of a script which increasingly neglects laughs the more the plot develops. Thus, early promise: ’Help me put the fun back into…non-refundable’, like the film’s protagonists, gets lost in the jungle and what could have been a fine film (with jokes based on accent miscomprehension – ‘welcome’ misheard as ‘whale cum’ – it was never going to be a great one) descends rapidly into a dispiritingly poor one. Hidden within the film’s thicket of unbelievable twists, there are still jokes to be found, a handful of which hit, but these are too few and too often accompanied by dialogue pauses that have clearly been inserted in anticipation of audiences laughs that just don’t come.
It doesn’t help that an increasing absence of wit finds no solace in the increasingly tasteless plot. When in Ecuador, Emily befriends a charming Brit (Tom Bateman – klaxon) who shows her that there is more to life than one lived through an iPhone and allows her to experience new plethoras of cultural diversity. It is whilst Emily and Linda are under said Brit’s ‘protection’ that the duo are kidnapped by a local gang and held for ransom. They escape, murdering one of their captives in the process, and a chase across South America ensues as the Americans attempt to get back home, aided there by Jeffrey’s attempts to recruit the closest thing that the US State Department can offer to the A-Team. None of this is especially engaging to start with but when Emily’s personal development is enabled by her ability to turn good samaritan for a simple Columbian community things turn both saccharine and pretty rancid. Whilst Snatched manages to avoid stereotyping hispanic gangs in favour of mocking thick American tourists, the endeavour is wholly undermined by images of white saviours who gain moral salvation by their own do-gooding amid othered civilisations. The sort home to no individuals but instead a collective of saints in pre-cultural existences, just waiting for the aid of more advanced nations. This might feel unduly damning criticism for a light comic affair, but it is one that is unavoidable by the nature of its weak handling.
It is the film’s leads that offer redemption from outright failure here. Schumer is a talented performer and, whilst she’s been better, Snatched finds her on generally good form, give or take the odd over-hamming. Hawn, meanwhile, is faultless as her mother and the only one to emerge entirely without taint. A warm and welcome screen presence, the actress brings not just humour to the part but even an unwarranted depth to the paycheck, conveying the pains of motherhood with heartbreaking believability. An hour and a half with Hawn is time well spent, if precious little else deserves it here.