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Tape's breezy fun, Begin Again sings

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SEX TAPE. It feels like most romantic comedies have the same pacing as big summer blockbusters. The stakes are impossibly high, each moment is incredibly important, all building toward a thrilling declaration of love in some giant set piece. A Katherine Heigl movie is just as exhausting as Transformers.

Which is why the relaxed pace of Sex Tape is so refreshing. Starring Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel (who also co-wrote the script), the film breezes by. Just over 90 minutes, the plot is simple, leaving room for fun, fleshed-out characters and ridiculous situations for them.

Annie (Diaz) is a stay-at-home mom/blogger and Jay (Segel) is a radio station programmer and technophile, regularly getting new iPads and giving the old ones to friends and family. Annie and Jay love each other, but between work and two kids, they haven't made love in some time. This leads to the titular home movie, which, through the gift/curse of "the cloud," is sent out to all the iPads Jay has given out. Panic and a Thursday night mission to delete the video follow.

The breezy feel of the story, however, comes at the expense of memorable moments. Save for a few quick bits, nothing particularly shines among the jokes and plot, surprising given the track record of the cast. Jason Segel is the standout though. Like in his recently wrapped show, How I Met Your Mother, Jason Segel shows why he might be the best actor for characters in long-term relationships. While maybe a little more vulgar with their conversation than you and your spouse, Segel and Diaz sound like a married couple. Their scenes are tinged with the playful venom of long-term love, without the life and death urgency seen in romantic comedies about relationships just beginning. Even if the movie didn't start with a montage of Diaz and Segel first meeting in college and having sex in every possible place on a college campus (don't worry, it does), you can still believe they've been together for a long time. But while you believe the chemistry, the characters and their relationships don't really evolve so much as revert back to better times. It's the difference between rediscovering yourself and repeating yourself.

While not as laugh-out-loud funny as their previous movies, and with a surprising number of butt shots, the movie keeps you engaged and chuckling along. Diaz and Segel are joined by a great supporting cast, which includes surprise visits from Jack Black and Rob Lowe, whose character has commissioned at least four paintings of himself inserted into iconic moments from Disney cartoons.

Sex Tape is a fun date night flick, but probably best as a cautionary tale about using technology to fix your relationship. R. 95m.

BEGIN AGAIN. When Begin Again first premiered at film festivals last year, it was going by the name Can a Song Save Your Life? Really, both titles work for the movie, but at different points. Starring Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, James Corden, Hailee Steinfeld and Adam Levine, the film is basically split into two parts. Unfortunately, the division makes it uneven, keeping this very good movie from becoming something magical.

The first half could go by the original title. Focused on the chance encounter between washed-up music producer Dan (Ruffalo) and recently single, talented Greta (Knightley) at a New York City open mic, the film presents the meeting from both characters' perspectives, as well as the immediate context that brings them to this moment. This is the heart of the story, with one song slowly unfolding throughout. The second part could be titled Begin Again, as Greta and Dan set out to make an album together and ultimately work through their recent misery. It is during this part of the story that the film really comes alive as the two characters travel New York City, performing at various beautiful outdoor locations.

Just like his previous film, Once, director John Carney creates a real-life musical and a fine platonic romance, this time between Knightley and Ruffalo. If you are a fan, or are even aware of Once, you might find that Carney's previous film casts a long shadow that Begin Again can't escape. While the cast is strong overall, Adam Levine, in his acting debut, is clearly the weak link. He is more or less playing himself, had he been the lead singer of Mumford & Sons instead of Maroon 5.

The best surprise of the film is Keira Knightley's singing voice, which makes the actress believable as a singer-songwriter in the film or possibly in a previous life. Particularly in one flashback scene, Knightly throws pain and heartbreak into some great songs. And though Ruffalo doesn't sing, some of his dialogue is downright lyrical, especially when he discusses the power of music. By simply applying music to any situation, his character says, you can turn the banalities of life into beautiful little moments.

The film is anything but banal, but the application of music does offer a series of beautiful little moments. PG13. 130m.

— Trevor Reece

Previews

AND SO IT GOES. Seasoned pros on an easy job. Rob Reiner directs Diane Keaton as Interesting Older Woman and Michael Douglas as Difficult Older Man in a romantic comedy. Will Precocious Child bring them together? R. 95m.

HERCULES. Dwayne Johnson picks up the leather skirt for his turn as the do-gooder demi-god. Add the lion's head hoodie and he resembles a bodybuilder at Burning Man. With John Hurt and Ian McShane. PG13. 99m.

LUCY. Director Luc Besson loves a woman warrior. Scarlett Johansson cocks her head, waves her hand and dispatches her enemies a la Matrix as a guinea pig for a drug that allows her to access the other 90 percent of her brain. R. 90m.

Continuing

22 JUMP STREET. It ain't broke, and they ain't fixing it. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum return as undercover cops busting a college drug ring in this funny and self-aware comedy. R. 112m.

AMERICA. The trailer for director Dinesh D'Souza's slow-mo history class project asks what the world would be like without America. If he's referring to this film, probably fine. PG13. 103m.

CHEF. Jon Favreau stars in this well done food-truck road movie that cuts through professional kitchen bravado to real humanity and warmth. With Robert Downey Jr. and John Leguizamo. Bring napkins. R. 115m.

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Stunning visual effects, intense battles and a story with an emotional authenticity generally unseen in summer blockbusters. PG13. 130m.

EARTH TO ECHO. A group of youngsters find a friendly alien and help him phone, ahem, sorry, get home. PG. 89m.

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2. Transportive animation and talented voice acting create a world worth revisiting and a story with humor and real drama. PG. 102m.

MALEFICENT. An atmospheric, good-looking fantasy with a sharpened Angelina Jolie as the fairytale party crasher from Sleeping Beauty. Heavy on CGI, light on character and not quite scary enough. PG. 98m.

PLANES: FIRE AND RESCUE. Sequel to the animated Cars spin-off, with voice work by Dane Cook and Julie Bowen. PG. 84m.

THE PURGE: ANARCHY. Horror sequel about citizens gone wild in a violent American dystopia. PG13. 130m.

TAMMY. Melissa McCarthy plays a woman on a wild and wooly rock-bottom road trip with her hard-drinking grandmother, played by Susan Sarandon. R. 102m.

TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION. Even game actors and fun cameos can't save the planet from the thin plot and epic running time of the latest Michael Bay disaster. He might have tried more dinosaurs. PG13. 165m.

— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

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Trevor Reece

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