In the first few scenes of “Snatched,” Emily Middleton (Amy Schumer) loses her retail job and her rock ’n’ roll boyfriend. Those are the high points of the movie, quick and nasty riffs to remind you of “Trainwreck” and raise your hopes for something similar. Those hopes are both fulfilled and disappointed.
Like most popular big-screen comic performers, Ms. Schumer is committed to consistency, or at least to exploiting a successful and familiar persona. She has become more or less what Will Ferrell was a decade and a half ago: the likable embodiment of various forms of human unpleasantness, a soft-bodied clown whose immunity to shame represents an appealing kind of innocence. Emily is self-absorbed, lazy and rude, but also so lacking in true meanness or guile and so dogged in her pursuit of shallow pleasures that she’s kind of fun to be around. Even though she drinks too much, says obnoxious things and misbehaves in other ways — killing two people, for example, one with a shovel and the other with a harpoon — it’s impossible to get mad at her, or even seriously annoyed.
That’s her mother’s job. “Snatched” is an intergenerational buddies-on-the-run movie, a strangely popular subgenre nowadays. Emily’s mom, Linda, is played by Goldie Hawn, who has been funny for a good half-century (going back to “Laugh-In”) and who is cruelly and inexplicably denied that privilege here. Linda, long-divorced and devoted to her two children (Emily’s toxic-nerd brother is played by Ike Barinholtz), functions as an uptight, anxious foil to her wildly undisciplined daughter. In principle that may be a slightly stale premise. In practice it’s just dull, and it’s frustrating to see Ms. Hawn robbed the opportunity to be silly.
Supplemental silliness is supplied, instead, by Mr. Barinholtz, by Wanda Sykes and Joan Cusack (as a pair of intense tourists), by Christopher Meloni (as an Amazonian adventurer) and by Bashir Salahuddin (as a State Department bureaucrat). The story is nowhere near as hilarious as the director, Jonathan Levine, and the screenwriter, Katie Dippold, would like us to believe. (And not up to the standard of “The Heat” or “Ghostbusters,” both of which Ms. Dippold was also involved in.)
Emily drags Linda on a trip to Ecuador that turns calamitous when the two women are kidnapped by a gang of South American baddies. By “calamitous” I mean lazy, sloppy and witless. “Snatched” is one of those movies that subscribes to a dubious homeopathic theory of cultural insensitivity by which the acknowledgment of offensiveness is supposed to prevent anyone from taking offense. The idea is that if you use variations on the phrase “That’s racist!” as a punch line a few times, nothing else you say or do could possibly be racist. Including, say, populating your movie with dark-skinned thugs with funny accents and killing a few of them for cheap laughs.
Ms. Schumer has been criticized for this kind of thing before, and I suppose there’s a certain integrity in blithely refusing to care. It’s also true that comedy can be forgiven for a lot as long as it manages to make you laugh. Which “Snatched” did, in my case, a handful of times, including when Emily has a tapeworm and when her brother reaches out to the State Department for help rescuing his mother and sister. But though this movie ostensibly celebrates the spirit of adventure and openness to experience, it takes no risks and blazes no trails. It’s ultimately as complacent, self-absorbed and clueless as its heroine, and not always in an especially amusing way.