Amy Schumer is one of those rare comic artists, like Louis C.K. or Chris Rock, who can get you laughing out loud at reality. Two years ago, she carried that scorched-earth impulse right into her first movie, the fearlessly funny and close-to-the-bone “Trainwreck.” Written by Schumer herself, and directed by Judd Apatow, it was the most audacious romantic comedy in years — and the most satisfying, too — because it touched a nerve of almost masochistic sincerity. In “Snatched,” her first movie since “Trainwreck,” Schumer gets cast as a loser who’s even further down on the totem pole of respectability. It’s a sign of Schumer’s rapport with the audience that in the opening scene, where she appears to be playing the most annoying off-the-rack clothing-store customer in history (it turns out she’s actually the sales person), the deeper the hole she digs for herself, the more we like her.
Schumer is a virtuoso of cringe comedy. When her character, Emily, gets fired, and is then dumped by her boyfriend, her mixture of pathological self-doubt and clueless egomania is served up with a candor you can’t stop gawking (or giggling) at. You may feel like you’d follow her anywhere.
But at “Snatched,” even if you do love Amy Schumer, you have to follow her into an aggressively cartoonish mother-daughter vacation-from-hell comedy that never strays far from the fractious, one-note surface. The movie teams Schumer with Goldie Hawn, in what’s supposed to be a return to form for the original contempo kewpie doll of screwball comedy. The trouble is, “Snatched” really is a return to form — it goes right back to the knockabout synthetic spirit of such cheeseball Goldie Hawn comedies as “Foul Play,” “Overboard,” and “Bird on a Wire.” If you like those movies (and some do), maybe you’ll go for this, and “Snatched,” at least for the time being, probably has the market cornered on major Hollywood comedies about women behaving badly. But as written by Katie Dippold (the “Ghostbusters” remake) and directed by Jonathan Levine (“The Wackness”), it doesn’t set the bar very high.
Hawn plays Emily’s divorced mom, Linda, who is settled and stodgy, and treats her children with such indulgence that she has turned them into flamboyantly arrested basket cases. Emily’s brother, Jeffrey (Ike Barinholtz), is an agoraphobe who still lives at home with the woman he calls “Ma-ma” (he’s also a pop-culture drooler who thinks he can speak Klingon). As for Emily, her failure to be a functional adult is exceeded only by her lack of awareness of it. She can’t exist without somebody to prop her up, and that’s why she guilt-trips her mom into going with her on an exotic getaway to a resort hotel in Ecuador, taking the place of the boyfriend who just dumped her.
Hawn, in theory at least, is supposed to be playing one of those cranky maternal comic nightmares, like Shirley MacLaine in “Terms of Endearment” or “Postcards from the Edge” or — to tie it to the franchise era of Mother’s-Day-weekend-as-marketing concept — Jane Fonda in “Monster-in-Law.” But Hawn’s whole shtick as an actress is that she always insists, deep down, on being cuddly and likable. Linda gets her token lines of sniping, but it’s not funny sniping (the insults are too soft-edged; they aren’t allowed to be brittle), and this means that the movie’s mother-daughter jokes are like firecrackers with damp fuses.
In the hotel, Emily, who is already as tired of her mother’s limp scolding as we are, goes down to the bar to have a drink, and it’s there that she meets James (Tom Bateman), a swarthy bearded English dude who’s so handsome yet courtly that he isn’t fooling anyone — except her. Actresses like Sandra Bullock have specialized in taking everyday insecurities and turning them into stylized comedy, but Schumer does something even a lot of trained actresses don’t: She lets the feelings — the icky, squirmy, uncomfortable ones — come right through her skin. When she runs to the bathroom to prep for her evening with James, she gets caught, with the door open, in a compromising position, and Schumer makes it feel like a compressed stand-up routine (“Have you ever gone to the ladies’ room to clean your…?”). She’s a completely original presence, like Ann-Margret with the soul of an eager neurotic gopher, and she uses it to signify the jitters and dreams of a blessedly ordinary woman.
It won’t spoil “Snatched” to reveal the premise of the movie, which is that Emily and Linda get kidnapped…by scary racist-lite cliché Ecuadorian kidnappers! They’re tossed into a cell, with blood on the walls and a scorpion in the corner. Then they escape; then they get tracked down again. The movie is a jungle-set chase comedy that has many antecedents, from “Romancing the Stone” to “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason,” but really, “Snatched” is the generic version of a latter-day Paul Feig comedy — which is to say, it’s an attempt to shoehorn Amy Schumer into the action-meets-yocks-meets-sisterhood formula of movies like “The Heat” and “Spy.” Feig is one of the film’s producers, and back in the days when he was teaming up with Apatow and directing “Bridesmaids” — the best romantic comedy before “Trainwreck” — there was a human touch to his work. It seems more gone than not now. “Snatched” is a flashy piece of product. It doesn’t quite try to turn Amy Schumer into the new Melissa McCarthy, but it reduces her all the same.
In a middling comic ride like this one, you fasten onto moments and squiggly little jokes. It’s funny that Emily keeps on killing people, and Christopher Meloni, looking like a debauched Jon Hamm, shows up as an adventurer-explorer so valiant that we keep waiting for the catch (the catch is: he’s out of his mind). The fact that the State Department can’t do much to help our heroines beyond advising them to “Get to Bogotá!” feels like a timely forlorn joke about the collapse of American power. The movie also looks about 10 times better than it needs to; the cinematography, by Florian Ballhaus, might have served an elegant Amazon Forest thriller. You could say that there’s no harm in Amy Schumer doing a picture like this one, and maybe there isn’t, but she’s one of those actresses who has the potential to bring a rare full-bodied comic voice to movies. That’s a quality that shouldn’t get thrown overboard.