Directed by: Jesse Peretz
Starring: Zach Braff, Jason Bateman, Amanda Peet, Charles Grodin, Mia Farrow
Since something had to be released against the likes of box office juggernauts Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third and the newest installment of The Pirates of the Caribbean series, our friends at The Weinstein Company decided to scrape the cinematic table scraps that are The Ex and release it into theaters.
Originally titled The Fast Track (The Ex isn’t a much better name, since there isn’t an actual ex in the entire movie) and pushed back from January, the film isn’t exactly bad, just unregenerately mediocre in the most bland way imaginable. The story follows Tom (Zach Braff), a supposed slacker who can’t keep a job, who is forced to move with wife Sofia (Amanda Peet) and their newborn son to Ohio in order to take a job at his father-in-law’s (Charles Grodin) ad agency. Everything is fine until Sofia’s former high school buddy, the wheelchair-bound Chip (Jason Bateman), decides to break up Tom and Sofia’s marriage.
From here, the movie is just a battle of wills (and high jinks!) between Tom and Chip, which usually leads to Tom being made to look like a fool, until the final reel when Chip gets his comeuppance and Tom and Sofia live happily ever after. All of this would be fine and dandy if the movie were actually funny (of course if you find a man on a skateboard in a pickle suit getting hit in the groin among the heights of comedic genius, this film is for you). Instead we get a movie that looks and feels for all the world like a worn-out sitcom, or possibly even worse: Ben Stiller’s leftovers, with a little bit of Flirting with Disaster (1996) floating around for good measure. This is maybe the kind of movie David O. Russell would make if you hit him in the head with a shovel and subjected him to constant re-runs of Friends.
The Ex looks even worse if you compare the movie to the recently released Hot Fuzz—a comedy where the gags are crafted and have an actual bearing on the plot, as opposed to just being a hodge-podge of half-baked sketches, forced randomness or jokes you’ve seen a million times before (one bit in The Ex’ trailer is lifted directly from The Big Lebowski (1998)). Braff and Bateman do a good job playing off each other, though Braff playing a likeable oaf doesn’t exactly test his range and Bateman’s sociopathic Chip just ends up being obnoxious and grating. Sure, since he’s the villain you’re supposed to hate Chip, but wishing that theaters came equipped with mute buttons is probably not what the makers were shooting for. The way Chip acts throughout makes it difficult to believe that he has ever had friends, despite the film’s assertion that his confinement to a wheelchair somehow makes him innately sympathetic. It’s also easy to see why this is Charles Grodin’s first film in 13 years. He manages to grumble his way through the entire film (though in his defense, it is some of the most amiable grumbling you’re likely to find in a movie this summer), and Mia Farrow is on hand solely to act crazy for a few scenes and then disappear.
As comedies go, The Ex is just so overwhelmingly nondescript and generic that it never really had a chance to work in the first place. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, brief language and a drug reference.
— reviewed by Justin Souther