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Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn star in SnatchedJustina Mintz

Amy Schumer's new movie Snatched begins with a skit of sorts, a funny number in which her character Emily reveals a grotesquely oblivious narcissism as she discusses what shirt she might buy with another woman in a store. The scene builds to a zippy surprise ending and next we watch as the deluded Emily gets dumped by her rock-star boyfriend on the eve of their trip to Ecuador, in a successful pairing of Schumer's loud energy with some highly effective deadpan from comedian Randall Park.

So far, so good. Then Schumer teams up with Goldie Hawn, playing Emily's mom, Linda, a neurotic security-obsessed divorcée who Emily somehow persuades to come along to Ecuador in the ex-boyfriend's place because the trip is non-refundable. In the lobby of their tropical hotel, Linda accepts an exotic drink from a waiter, mistakes his "Welcome" for "whale cum" and Hawn spits the stuff all over Schumer's face. Oh, dear. Things seem rocky already.

And so it goes. As the mother-daughter duo get kidnapped by a gang of Colombians and spirited across the border, Snatched piles bad ideas on good ideas and lame bits of gross-out humour on genuinely funny bits of character work, without ever building enough dramatic force or comic energy to craft a full movie from the results. By the midway mark you may start to believe that you are watching a Schumer comedy special with an eager Hawn – essaying her first film role in 15 years – appearing as her special guest.

Why does this all feel so slack? The chief culprit seems to be the direction – or lack thereof – from Jonathan Levine (50/50, Warm Bodies), as scenes cut out before full hilarity takes hold or accumulate on top of each other without establishing momentum. Playing the careless adventurer and the paranoid homebody, Schumer and Hawn seem cozy enough together but never fully profit from this very basic odd-couple scenario. The film's only successful running gag – involving an officer at the U.S. State Department who couldn't care less that two American women have been kidnapped in South America – doesn't even include the two leads.

So, Levine's hand is decidedly weak, but still, the script also poses some problems. Katie Dippold, who was one of the writers on last year's all-female Ghostbusters remake, starts with some interesting ideas. She is determined that Emily and Linda will rescue themselves and she comes up with all sorts of snappy ways, from a breaking vine to a departing truck, to dispatch any other possible saviours. The difficulty with this concept, however, is that promising secondary characters keep disappearing from the action, contributing to the movie's episodic feel.

Those secondary characters include an amusingly butch special-ops agent and her mute girlfriend, a delusional salesman from Rochester who is playing Indiana Jones and a kind jungle doctor who rescues Emily from a tapeworm. The latter dutifully establishes the fact that some Colombians are intelligent and well-meaning – there is already some social-media criticism that the film plays on ugly stereotypes of Latino thugs – and then makes himself scarce. Only Ike Barinholtz as Emily's nerdy brother, battling his agoraphobia to get the State Department to rescue his beloved "Maman" and annoying sister, gets to stick around to deliver on his comic promise.

It's nice to have someone funny to hang onto here because Hawn's character is running out of humour – and the actress herself seems to be flagging – once Linda has conquered her fears enough to start shooting Colombians or at least encouraging her daughter to do so.

And the girl with the gun? Well, the comedienne's raunchy and self-obsessed millennial character may be funny, but she's also irritating. Her unfortunate kidnappers weary of her. So do we.