Judging by the mildly naughty past-participle title, you might as well see “Snatched” as a raunchy female comedy version of “Taken,” assuming you care to see it at all. Goldie Hawn and Amy Schumer play a mother and daughter vacationing together in Ecuador, where they are kidnapped and held for ransom. Liam Neeson doesn’t show up to save the day; the women manage that themselves, thank you very much. But saving the movie turns out to be an altogether more difficult proposition.
It begins promisingly enough. The character of Emily Middleton, a directionless New Yorker who loves sex, booze and Instagram, is very much in Schumer’s wheelhouse; she could be a not-so-distant cousin of the glorious loser-heroine Schumer wrote for herself to play in the vastly superior “Trainwreck.” In the opening scenes of “Snatched,” Emily is unceremoniously dumped by her musician boyfriend (Randall Park, rocking a very un-“Fresh Off the Boat” goatee), with whom she had already booked a vacation in Ecuador.
The tickets are nonrefundable, and Emily, after begging every friend she knows, winds up inviting her overbearing mother, Linda (Hawn), who refuses at first but eventually, reluctantly agrees to go along. For a while, we’re happy to do the same. It has, after all, been 15 years since we last saw Hawn on the big screen, in “The Banger Sisters,” and a sun-drenched tropical resort is hardly the least pleasant place to get reacquainted.
The characters’ cross-generational sniping is thin and familiar, if believable enough. Emily’s a wild child; Linda loves cats and doesn’t get Facebook. Hawn is in tamped-down mode, playing the cautious, sensible-minded foil to Schumer’s unruly comic engine. But the two leads have a certain spark that shines through nonetheless, even past the layers of sweat, grime, blood and tears that begin to pile up as their vacation quickly goes south.
Or north, rather. Making the mistake of falling for some hunky man-bait (Tom Bateman), Emily lands herself and her mother in Colombia, where they are imprisoned by a menacing crime boss named Hector Morgado (Oscar Jaenada). They manage to escape, but in the ensuing scuffle, a couple of Morgado’s henchmen die — and so too does the laughter, as slapstick devolves into splatstick and corpses start to pile up faster than fat jokes.
It’s not that there isn’t comedy gold to be mined from the sight of two American women trying to find their way through the Amazon — especially with help from a bumbling tour guide (Chris Meloni) and two legitimately fierce “platonic friends” (a nicely matched Wanda Sykes and Joan Cusack) with serious special-ops skills. The bigger problem is that side-splitting comedy and throat-splitting violence don’t always make natural bedfellows, despite Hollywood’s many, many attempts to convince us otherwise.
There have, of course, been a few welcome exceptions to the rule, among them the Melissa McCarthy vehicles “Spy” and “The Heat.” The latter movie, like this one, was scripted by Katie Dippold (she also wrote last year’s female-powered “Ghostbusters” remake), which makes it all the more regrettable that “Snatched,” under the uninspired direction of Jonathan Levine (“The Night Before,” “Warm Bodies”), should feel like such a lazy, laugh-deficient botch.
With a cast of Colombian characters that can be evenly divided between salt-of-the-earth villagers and gun-toting thugs, “Snatched” is more mindless than malicious. Its cloddishness is, if anything, a proud Hollywood staple. Even still, the movie won’t do much to counter the widespread charge that Schumer, a genius at skewering male assumptions about femininity, sexuality and body image, is on much more questionable ground when it comes to using comedy to address issues of race and culture.
It’s telling that the movie’s sharpest moment is a wordless bit of physical comedy involving a door, a mirror and some sensible if impromptu feminine hygiene. It’s a classic Schumer sight gag, in which the hilarity stems entirely from the spectacle of messy, inconvenient female desire, not tucked politely away but goofily liberated for a change. Next to a gutbuster like that, tired jokes about the purported horrors of the Third World — scorpions, tapeworms, fatal cliff dives, non-English speakers — don’t really stand a chance.
I don’t mean to dwell on the xenophobia of “Snatched,” which is hardly the first studio release to mock its characters’ cultural cluelessness and wind up revealing its own. Even without the casual racism, the movie would still be hard-pressed to overcome its lukewarm Mother’s Day-ready sentimentality, or to give a comic wonder like Hawn the razor-sharp big-screen comeback she’s long deserved. “Snatched” may represent a failure of sensitivity, but it’s an even greater failure of nerve.
MPAA rating: R, for crude sexual content, brief nudity and language throughout
Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Playing: In general release