Ex, The (United States, 2007)
There's a prescription for making an effective dark comedy: the film must generate equal parts discomfort and laughter. The Ex offers plenty of the former but precious little of the latter. The movie is populated by dislikeable individuals doing unpleasant things but isn't redeemed by the vein of viciously black comedy that made The War of the Roses and Bad Santa such devilish pleasures. For the most part, the humor in The Ex is sit-com in nature - mild, juvenile, filled with pratfalls, and not especially funny.
Tom (Zach Braff) has a history of being unable to keep any job for long. His latest opportunity comes from his father-in-law (Charles Grodin), who invites Tom to become part of his team at a middle America advertising agency. So, with his loving wife, Sofia (Amanda Peet), and baby son in tow, Tom departs New York for Sofia's home town in Ohio. At the office, he immediately feels like a fish out of water, and his discomfiture increases when he learns that his mentor, the wheelchair-bound Chip (Jason Bateman), has the hots for Sofia. Worse, Sofia's dad is more paternal to Chip than to Tom and Sofia reveals that she once slept with Chip. As the days pass, Tom learns that Chip is a despicable human being but when he tries to bring this to someone's attention, he is accused of being insensitive.
The Ex's problems begin with the lead characters. In this sort of movie, viewers expect a war of attrition in which the antagonists give and take in a series of battles that become increasingly acrimonious and dangerous. In this case, however, Chip is a master manipulator who wins nearly every round and Tom is a whiny loser. This is a problem because he's the guy we're supposed to sympathize with. It's impossible to like the asshole Chip but not especially easy to root for Tom. We spend most of the movie waiting for Tom to stop being a doormat. When he eventually does something, it's too transparent to be considered as clever as the filmmakers would have us believe.
Over the course of several film appearances and his successful run on TV's Scrubs, Zach Braff has shown himself to be a one-note player, and he's in his comfort zone here: low-key and uninteresting. Had the role been written ten years older, Ray Romano could have played it. Jason Bateman is almost too good as Chip. Playing against type, he comes across as creepy and vile. Amanda Peet hardly has more to do than carry around a baby. Veterans Mia Farrow and Charles Grodin (returning to the screen after a 13-year absence) have throw-away parts as Sofia's parent. It's odd that Grodin would choose The Ex for his comeback. After being a mainstay in motion pictures during the 1970s and 1980s, he retired in the early 1990s. One wonders what it is about The Ex that prodded him to give acting another shot.
The director is Jesse Peretz, whose 2001 feature, The Chateau, suffered from the same problem as The Ex: promising premise, disappointing execution. You know a movie is in trouble when the biggest laugh comes from Zach Braff riding a bicycle into a parked car. That's the height of comedy in this movie, and it probably sounds more amusing than it is. The film might deserve some credit for its forcefully un-PC approach to physical disabilities if it didn't find a weasel's way out in the last act. While it's a rare comedy that can boast a strong narrative, The Ex's is too weak for the film to survive when the laughter doesn't materialize.
The Ex is another one of those films that the Weinsteins have had on their shelves for a while. For most of its life, it went by the name Fast Track, which would have created the ultimate irony had it been released with that title. For more than a year, the movie was on the slow road to nowhere and the decision to release it in the middle of the summer blockbuster season doesn't bode well for its box office prospects. Considering how little the picture has to offer, that's not a bad thing. The Ex will play better on the small screen, where less is expected, and it shouldn't take long to get there.
Ex, The (United States, 2007)
Cast: Zach Braff, Amanda Peet, Jason Bateman, Charles Grodin, Mia Farrow, Donal Logue
Screenplay: David Guion & Michael Handelman
Cinematography: Tom Richmond
Music: Ed Shearmur
U.S. Distributor: The Weinstein Company
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