OnScreen Review: 'Snatched'

Ken Jones

  • OnScreen Chief Film Critic

It’s hard to believe, but it has been 15 years since Goldie Hawn, an Oscar winner and a bona fide 80s movie star, has made a movie.  2002’s The Banger Sisters was the last film she appeared in until Snatched, the first follow-up film of Amy Schumer’s since 2015’s Trainwreck and the latest film by director Jonathan Levine.  Along with screenwriter Katie Dippold, there is talent on screen and behind the screen.  Unfortunately, that talent does not translate into overall quality as Snatched is an uneven, only occasionally funny film.

On the eve of an exotic vacation to Ecuador, Emily (Schumer) is dumped by her musician boyfriend.  Having just lost her job and having non-refundable tickets, she is desperate to find someone to go on the trip with her.  She finally convinces her mom, Linda (Hawn) to go on the vacation.  While down there, Emily meets a guy and has a great time out and about.  The next day, the guy takes both of them on a scenic tour of the surrounding area, during which time they are run off the road and abducted.  Held for ransom by these criminals, who contact Emily’s brother Jeffrey (Ike Barinholtz), an agoraphobic momma’s boy, Emily and Linda eventually manage to escape and are chased through the South American jungle by their captors while trying to reach a US embassy and safety.

Schumer is the star of the film, though the inclusion of Hawn in the film is notable because she has been gone for so long.  Schumer is a very funny comedian.  A lot of comedians that transition from standup to movies early on tend to play characters that are slight variations of who they are as comedians, and Schumer is no different here.  Trainwreck is a more impressive, well-rounded performance from her as well as a better all-around film (which she wrote), but her character here is not the same one from Trainwreck, though there are some obvious similarities.  Her joke delivery is obviously strong since she is so good as a standup comedian.  What I’ve noticed about Schumer through two films, though, is that her physical comedy is underrated.  She is given a lot more of it to do here, as mother and daughter are on the run from these kidnappers.  Some of the funnier moments of the film involve her physical comedy, from attempting dance moves involving a handstand that turns into a roundhouse kick to freaking out when she has to have something removed by a doctor.

Sadly, Hawn is underutilized.  She has moments where she really shines as the super cautious, slightly overbearing mother.  There is a moment when Schumer first wakes up after they have been taken and she is starting to freak out as reality sets in.  Hawn remains poised throughout it, calmly thumbing through a magazine.  It’s only when pressed by her daughter that she reveals that her calmness is a coping mechanism, the magazine is actually a porno mag, and if she wasn’t treating it like a generic coffee table magazine she’d probably be losing her mind.  She has a few other moments that stand out too, but for the most part her role is heavily reliant upon generational humor, similar to many of the recent comedies that Robert De Niro has found himself in over the last decade (or I assume since I’ve avoided most of those because they make me too sad).  Watching this film, though, it’s not that hard to picture Goldie Hawn instead of Susan Sarandon, Diane Keaton, and a few other older actresses in roles they have had over the past 15 years.  Here’s hoping this is a taste of what’s to come and not the last we’ll see of her on screen.

The premise of the film is strong.  There is potential a lot of comedic material to be mined from a mismatched mother-daughter relationship while on vacation in a foreign country.  Add in the kidnapping element and the chaos it throws into the mix, there is plenty of opportunity for laughs.  When this film is funny, it can be really funny, but the laughs are just too few and far between.  There is a scene when they’re on the run through the jungle and wind up in a village with a doctor.  The doctor makes a discovery that Schumer’s Emily needs to have something removed, and the way Schumer acts like the scared woman-child and Hawn moms-up and says “I’m your pillar” along with what followed nearly had me in tears.  Christopher Meloni shows up as someone willing to guide them through the jungle.  It’s slightly more than extended cameo of a supporting role, but it’s nonetheless one of the highlights of the film with a hilarious payoff.  Also, the interactions with the kidnappers result in family members of the leader of the group inadvertently getting killed, which is also pretty funny but could have been funnier.

Beyond that, the laughs are rather inconsistent.  The kidnappers are almost completely generic caricatures of third world thugs.  There’s not much to speak of regarding them.  Barinholtz is someone I run hot and cold on as a comic actor.  Usually, the ratio is about 80% of what he’s doing I find funny and 20% I could do without.  In this case, it was more 55%-45%.  Aside from a funny cadence in how he calls Goldie Hawn “Ma-ma,” he is given a US government official to interact with over the phone for most of the rest of the film and while the way he annoys this government agent is supposed to be funny to us, a few times it’s just annoying.  Wanda Sykes and Joan Cusack also have supporting roles as friends on vacation at the same resort.  Sykes is allowed to do some improv riffing and Cusack gets a few chuckles as a mute person who is retired Special Forces.

Speaking of improv, I’m wondering if that is the reason for the inconsistency here.  Katie Dippold, the screenwriter, is someone who came up through the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater system.  She also worked on the TV series Parks and Recreation for several seasons before going on to write The Heat and Ghostbusters.  It seems impossible to completely extricate last year’s Ghostbusters reboot from the controversy that surrounded it, but it was a flawed movie that did have some potential and a few good moments.  That’s not necessarily a knock on Dippold, who I think has talent.  There’s some clear improv going on in this film, just as there is in a lot of comedies.  I’m beginning to wonder if there is something lost in translation and too much of a reliance on improv in the finished product of these movies, as they’re filtered more through the actors and rely on the strength of the director to go with the right take.  And given what Levine has shown in previous directorial efforts, I expected more from him.  Too much of this felt generic and as though it could have been directed by anybody.

With considerable talent behind and in front of the camera, Snatched was a film I had been anticipating this year.  Given how much I enjoyed Schumer in Trainwreck and the return of Goldie Hawn, there were some expectations that it could be the funniest comedy of the summer.  Because of that, it’s disappointing that it’s such a middle of the road result.  I suspect that much of the negative reviews I have seen from others is because of these hopes and expectations.  It’s not as bad as its worst detractors are saying (a 2.5/10 rating on IMDB is just piling on), but it’s also far from being one of the funniest films of 2017. 

Rating 2.5 out of 5 stars