The big selling point of Snatched is that it’s a mother-daughter comedy starring Amy Schumer, a white-hot A-lister at the peak of her career; and Goldie Hawn, a living legend back from hiatus.
What a disappointment, then, that that central pairing is one of the least successful things about it.
To be fair, the actresses aren’t to blame. Schumer is right in her comfort zone as Emily Middleton, an aimless young woman that you might describe as a “free spirit” if were feeling generous and a “slob” if you weren’t. Hawn, in her first big-screen role in 15 years, gamely plays along as Linda, Emily’s loving but overly cautious mother.
But director Jonathan Levine (50/50) and screenwriter Katie Dippold (The Heat) don’t really find anywhere interesting to take these characters. Emily is just another variation on the “clueless white girl” character that Schumer’s built her entire career on. Meanwhile, as nice as it is to see Hawn back on the big screen again, Linda’s buttoned-up personality doesn’t allow her enough room to cut loose.
Emiliy’s just out of a breakup, which should have nixed her plans for a romantic vacation with her boyfriend. But – as she explains in a pseudo-feminist inspirational speech that makes up one of the movie’s genuine laugh-out-loud moments – she refuses to let her ex’s decision to dump her stop her from living her life. Also, their tickets were nonrefundable. So Emily ends up bringing her mom on her Ecuadorian getaway instead.
That quickly proves a terrible idea, as mother and daughter start bickering the second they arrive at their hotel. Then things go from bad to much, much worse when the Middletons are kidnapped for ransom by a local cartel.
Worse for the Middletons, that is, but better for us. Because while Emily and Linda aren’t all that exciting, their predicament opens up the movie to all sorts of wacky side characters and silly subplots. It’s in those margins that Snatched finally starts to click.
Highlights include Joan Cusack as Barb, a fellow vacationer who’s a veteran of the special ops forces – “not that bullshit regular ops,” as her partner Ruth (Wanda Sykes) cheerily explains. Cusack has no lines whatsoever, but steals every scene she’s in simply by contorting her face into a succession of outrageously terrifying expressions.
Also fantastic is Christopher Meloni as Roger, an American traveller that the Middletons encounter in their hour of need. With his classic khaki outfit and his old-fashioned map, he’s a pitch-perfect parody of the kind of old-timey explorer who thrives on mortal danger and grunts stuff like “I’ve been looking for adventure ever since I got to this godforsaken land, and now it looks like adventure has found me.”
Then there’s my personal favorite, Emily’s brother Jeffrey. The character isn’t much more than a collection of quirks – he’s an agoraphobic nerd who lives at home with his mother – but Ike Barinholtz blesses him with a hilarious, hyper-specific performance. He’s well matched by Bashir Salahuddin’s perfectly understated work as Morgan, a U.S. state department official with little patience to offer the Middletons.
Were Snatched simply content with being funny, it might let these oddballs take over. But it also wants to be heartfelt, and so the focus stays on Emily and Linda. Yet despite all the time we spend with them, the dynamic between the Middleton women never really gets fleshed out beyond “nagging mom and annoyed kid.” As a result, the sentimental arc of the movie falls totally flat.
It’s a wasted opportunity. In theory, Snatched should give Schumer a chance to build on the emotional range she demonstrated in Trainwreck. In theory, Snatched could introduce Hawn to a whole new generation of fans. In theory, Snatched should make us laugh and cry and inspire us to visit home to let our parents know how much we love them.
In practice, Snatched feels disappointingly familiar – which is odd, seeing as we’re not exactly drowning in R-rated mother-daughter comedies. It won’t rank among Schumer or Hawn’s more memorable performances, and it probably won’t linger in your mind long enough for you to remember to call your mom afterward. Oh well. At least Joan Cusack is having fun.