After a 15-year absence from the movies, Goldie Hawn returns in an almost ceremonial capacity in Snatched, passing the baton of up-for-anything comedy to Amy Schumer, who shares with her a willingness to drive into a muck, Private Benjamin style. The two women don’t have everything in common: Hawn is the more credible actress and Schumer’s comic persona, forged in the hot fires of the stand-up circuit, has a brazen vulgarity and sexual candor that’s specifically hers. But Hawn and Schumer are both unpretentious and absent of vanity, and they’re not afraid of taking the low road to get to their destination. Snatched is their Blond Ambition tour, but with Schumer as the headliner, which throws this already ramshackle production completely off balance. It’s not a partnership so much as a coronation.
The main problem with Snatched, however, is that it mostly stops being funny the moment the kidnapping premise kicks in. Before then, Schumer works the fallout from a breakup into mercilessly self-deprecating comedy, turning the pain and humiliation of getting dumped into a comment on her character’s Instagram narcissism and flailing desperation. Schumer stars as Emily, who experiences two life-changing setbacks in short succession when she loses her job at a clothing store and loses a rock-star boyfriend (Randall Park) whose musical fortunes have, in his reckoning, given him access to a wider array of vaginas. Before the split, the two had planned a resort getaway to Ecuador and now she can’t find anyone to take the extra ticket, mainly on account of her odious personality.
In contrast to her devil-may-care recklessness, Emily’s mother Linda (Hawn) is practically a shut-in, living at home with her depressed cats and a halfwit grown son (Ike Barinholtz) who still calls her “ma-ma,” like a baby bird still chirping from the nest. Linda is the type of cautious mother who scans sex offender registries and local news to keep her daughter on constant threat alert, so the idea of Emily going to Ecuador alone freaks her out. But using two magic words, “nonrefundable ticket,” Emily persuades her mother to come along on her South American adventure and perhaps rediscover the wild side she’d been suppressing for decades. Not long after Emily connects with a handsome stranger at the resort, however, mother and daughter are kidnapped by a Ecuadorian gangsters looking for a quick ransom payoff.
The kinda-sorta clever twist of Snatched is that Emily and Linda are such a handful that their captors wind up more victimized than their captives, though the script, by Parks & Recreation and Ghostbusters writer Katie Dippold, doesn’t have the discipline to work out one comic premise for very long. Whenever the film has the germ of a funny idea, like Linda behaving calmly in the cell because she fully expected to get abducted on the trip, it abandons the notion immediately — which, in this case, means there’s zero payoff to casting Hawn as the cautious type. Mostly, Snatched is a mad scramble through the jungles of Ecuador and Colombia, as the women slip in and out of danger and improvise their way through various comic situations.
A few of those situations are amusing, like Christopher Meloni’s hilarious turn as a swarthy Indiana Jones type who’s significantly less seasoned an explorer than he appears to be. Many more are random, fitful attempts to defibrillate a comedy that keeps on flatlining, like a gross-out set piece that has a village doctor coaxing a tapeworm from Emily’s throat as if he were an Egyptian snake charmer. Wanda Sykes and Joan Cusack would seem to be a can’t-miss comic team as fanny pack-wearing world travelers who come prepared for danger, but they disappear of the entire middle stretch of the film and don’t justify their return.
Throughout it all, Snatched seems less a critique of Ugly American stereotypes than a risible example of them: When it’s not affirming Linda’s worst expectations of South America as a hotbed of violent criminality, the film pauses for a ridiculous scene where Emily questions the patriarchal culture of a remote village. All this misguided commentary gets away from the character-based humor that worked so much better before the kidnapping plot permanently hijacks the film. It’s a crime to deny Hawn any reasonable share of the laugh lines, but even Schumer gets diminished by situations that require her to react more than create. Their hands are tied in more ways than one.