“Snatched” has a script credited to Katie Dippold, but she clearly didn’t write much of her characters’ dialogue. This is one of those comedies where the actors are told to ad lib ad nauseam. There are a few cases where this strategy works, when the actors have good chemistry and the director doesn’t settle for just any old take. There are many more cases where this strategy doesn’t work because the actors don’t know what to do and it throws off the pacing of the movie. This movie falls into sort of an in-between category, one where all the ad libbing is problematic, but it can’t help but be an improvement over what we would have gotten otherwise.
Emily (Amy Schumer) is a self-absorbed hothead who loses her dead-end job and uninterested boyfriend within minutes of each other. To make matters worse, she bought non-refundable tickets for a vacation in Ecuador and now she has no one to go with. She goes to see her mother Linda (Goldie Hawn) and agoraphobic brother (Ike Barinholtz) for a few days to get her life sorted out and maybe find someone to take the spare ticket. She settles on Linda, whose current idea of “fun” is making abominable cat sculptures in pottery class (that she’s proud of one of these crimes against nature is one of the few deliberate gags that works).
Emily and Linda go to Ecuador, where Emily wants to party, but Linda is a stick in the mud. Despite warnings from a pair of former CIA agents (Wanda Sykes and a mute Joan Cusack), Emily makes fast friends with a local (Tom Bateman) who treats the pair to a scenic day trip. But the trip is just a front for a kidnapping scheme. Emily and Linda soon find themselves running for their lives, gradually getting into more and more trouble as they try to reach an embassy in Bogota. They’re able to reach Jeffrey by phone, but all he’s able to do is call the U.S. State Department, where he repeatedly annoys an agent (Bashir Salahuddin, who is able to bring out the best in Barinholtz as the two trade threats). Emily and Linda fight with each other, eventually bond, and somehow stay alive, mostly because the villains are so inept they couldn’t kidnap Princess Peach.
Everything related to the story and script in this movie is brainless. Huge chunks of the characters’ journey are missing because Dippold doesn’t know how to transition between key scenes. Traits and objects are established clumsily in the first act so they can be forced into the final showdown, which the movie thinks is clever. Urgency is forfeited in the name of letting the actors riff, which hurts the movie’s pacing, but at least results in a few small laughs that the script isn’t capable of delivering. When the script comes up with a gag, we get something like Emily’s PIN being 1234. But with the emphasis on ad libbing, Schumer and Hawn are allowed take control of their characters, and because they’re using their own voices, they’re more relatable than they would be if they were being influenced by someone else.
“Snatched” has been positioned as a Mother’s Day release, and because this is an Amy Schumer movie, I was all ready to go with jokes about how it’s too crude for that crowd (“my mother taught me to have better taste than this”). But this movie is so unambitious that it doesn’t even reach the level of crudeness that it wants. The R rating is deserved, and it’s not exactly devoid of tacky sex jokes, but a lot of it has to do with exclamatory profanity, not the thorough raunchiness of “Trainwreck.” Still, a better Mother’s Day present would be to go see something else.