At its best, Snatched is cleverer than its Taken-invoking double entendre of a title would suggest. Jonathan Levine’s shaggy, largely undisciplined adventure comedy takes aim at the banter-loaded highs of Romancing the Stone, and if it doesn’t have the endearing scope of that film or other exotic voyages like it, it’s still a reasonably funny movie when it hits its marks. It’s just a funny movie prone to going to some ugly, barren wells for laughs throughout as well.
Amy Schumer plays Emily as the most Amy Schumer character the actress could portray: a hot mess struggling to find direction in life, who starts the film off by being fired from her retail job over her unwillingness to actually work. The day just gets worse for her from there; her caddish boyfriend (Randall Park) dumps her because, as he puts it in no uncertain terms, he would rather have sex with many women than with her many times. (In the first of a number of big laughs derived from Schumer’s aggressive delivery throughout, she dejectedly attempts to argue her way out of him leaving her by refusing to acknowledge his callous insults.) Left single, and with no real friends, she’s forced to find a travel partner for a non-refundable trip to Ecuador that the two were supposed to take together.
She’s sent home in the midst of heartbreak, to her mother Linda (Goldie Hawn, onscreen for the first time in 15 years), who’s carved out a simpler life. Linda is a cat lady, but a sincere one; in one of the script’s cleverer touches, Katie Dippold doesn’t turn Linda’s domestic contentment into a punchline, aside from a couple of light jabs at her quaint wardrobe early on. Linda is the kind of risk-averse type who has five different locks on her front door and constantly frets over Emily’s well-being, which isn’t exactly a shot in the dark given her daughter’s penchant for binge drinking and bad romantic choices. Linda has only her distant daughter and her agoraphobic adult son Jeffrey (Ike Barinholtz) for company, so as the laws of odd-couple comedy dictate, it’s fated that Linda will become Emily’s travel companion.
Snatched attempts to head off the more xenophobic facets of its premise from the jump, with Emily bragging about how “we didn’t wanna go somewhere touristy, we’re not a couple of white assholes.” However, when the duo takes off for Ecuador, and Emily’s infatuation with a handsome local (Tom Bateman) leads to her and Linda being abducted by a menacing gang of sex traffickers, the film struggles against the sense that it’s dancing around exploitation at best, and engaging in the kind of casual racism it seeks to send up at worst. That it’s not generally as bad as it could’ve been is hardly a compliment, particularly when their efforts to evade the gang’s leader (Oscar Jaenada) tilt Snatched into violent directions that don’t land as comically as the film clearly intends.
Levine’s filmmaking is full of seams, from some green-screen work that’s questionable even by comedy standards to a plot that meanders even at 90 minutes, but all of this isn’t to say that Snatched is entirely devoid of merit. Much of the credit goes to its two leads, particularly Schumer, who’s willing to go to virtually any length for a laugh. If the film does trade on the “sex, amirite?!?” approach of so much of her stand-up, Schumer is nevertheless a gifted comic performer, and an entirely uninhibited one at that. Before the film is over, the actress throws herself over walls, pratfalls with the best of them, and drunkenly falls out of her top without so much as a hint of vanity. It’s a go-for-broke starring turn, and Schumer exudes the same mixture of bold confidence and vulnerability that made her work in Trainwreck a breakout, even as the film around her is somehow even less well-structured this time around.
Hawn, meanwhile, largely plays the straight woman to Schumer’s human tornado, and it’s in her empathetic return that Snatched finds its driving sense of purpose. The film is never better than when it simply plays out its central mother-daughter dynamic, particularly when Hawn is allowed to work through the paces of a onetime free spirit who knows that her child inherited the same recklessness. There’s genuine pathos in a jungle-set argument where Linda reminds Emily that “you see me when you need something” that Snatched would’ve done well to lean further into. As it stands, the film ekes out small moments of kindness and warmth amid a movie scattered with comic setpieces of wildly varying quality.
Snatched is full of performances that outshine the film itself, going beyond its all-in leads. Barinholtz makes the most of his one-note dweeb, delivering his exhortations of “mama!” with a bizarre inflection that somehow never stops being funny even when the film runs it into the ground. (His increasingly unhinged interactions with Bashir Salahuddin’s State Department representative make for a number of big laughs.) Wanda Sykes and Joan Cusack are equally underserved as a pair of platonic friends dragged into rescuing Emily and Linda, but they make the most of the time they get, especially in the case of Cusack’s wordless comic turn as a former secret agent. And Christopher Meloni, so wonderful anytime he pops up in a comedy, is memorable in a small handful of scenes as a dubious nature guide.
Snatched chases its laughs with vigor, and it’s more successful when it lets its gifted cast riff than when it sends them through belabored gags involving tapeworms, great escapes, and rape whistles. (Our kingdom for the day when Hollywood and audiences alike grow tired of context-free rape jokes.) It works far less as a high-concept studio comedy than as a take on estranged mother-daughter dynamics, and it’s even a little sweet when it smooths off its nastier edges. Perhaps most tellingly, the film’s most charming moment comes when Schumer and Hawn simply dance together to Billy Idol, comic heroines of two generations simply enjoying each other’s company. It’s hard not to wish by the film’s end that they’d done a film that was a little more straighforward and a little less fixated on how scary and dangerous all the countries without white people are.