My Super Ex-Girlfriend (United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

I once wrote that the only thing as necessary to a superhero movie as a nasty villain is a love interest. With My Super Ex-Girlfriend, director Ivan Reitman has shifted the focus away from the former and onto the latter. The twist here is that the superhero isn't the most emotionally stable individual, and the moral is that it's probably not a good idea to break up with someone who can put your car in geosynchronous orbit. (Cut her some slack. How stable would you be if every atom of your body had been energized by the emissions of an alien rock?) Reitman, working from a script credited to Don Payne (a frequent writer for The Simpsons), delivers on the comedic potential of the situation without bogging down the proceedings with a needlessly convoluted narrative. If you're going for plot, My Super Ex-Girlfriend will disappoint, but if you're going for a light look at aspects of the superhero experience that most "serious" genre entries ignore, the film delivers.

It would be fair to characterize Ivan Reitman as going through a "dry spell." He hasn't made a film since 2001's Evolution, and his last legitimate hit was 1990's Kindergarten Cop, back when Arnold Schwarzenegger was big enough to carry anything. Whether My Super Ex-Girlfriend will revive Reitman's mass appeal is questionable, but it possesse the wit and freshness to appeal to those who give it a chance. The question, I suppose, is whether audiences have by now been "superheroed out" this summer.

Matt Saunders (Luke Wilson) is an ordinary guy looking for love. Actually, he has found it in co-worker Hannah Lewis (Anna Faris), but she has a boyfriend and he doesn't want to interfere with her apparent happiness. So, he searches elsewhere and finds it in the person of Jenny Johnson (Uma Thurman), a mousy thirty-something woman he meets on the subway. Their first date doesn't go well. Jenny seems distracted and neurotic, and she leaves twice during dinner to visit the restroom. What Mat doesn't realize is that Jenny is the alter-ego of superhero G-Girl, and she departs to put out a raging inferno elsewhere in the city. Despite his misgivings, Matt continues to go out with Jenny, and their relationship progresses. Complications ensue when supervillain Professor Bedlam (Eddie Izzard) briefly kidnaps the clueless Matt so he can invade G-Girl's apartment when she vacates it to rescue her beau. Matt learns the truth about his girlfriend, has sex with her, then realizes that he wants Hannah, not Jenny. That's when he learns that G-Girl has a very dark side.

The movie touches on things that straight superhero films don't have time for. How torturous is it for a man to be involved in a secret relationship like this, where he can't brag to his friends? What's sex like with a superhero? (We know Superman had to remove his powers before taking Lois Lane to bed, but what would have happened to her if he hadn't?) How about fantasy role-playing in bed (or, in some cases, out of bed)? Then, of course, there's the break-up aspect. What if the savior of the world bears a grudge where the guy who dumped her is concerned?

Casting helps the film work. Uma Thurman is among the few actresses who can pull off this role: the hot, buff, slightly deranged superhero and her dowdy, un-sexy alter-ego. Anna Faris, who is typically cast is roles that require her to act dumb and sweet, tones down the "dumb" and dials up the "sweet." Cross-dressing comedian Eddie Izzard (whose wardrobe is exclusively male here) provides a villain who can be a little menacing, but is tough to view as really, truly nasty. Luke Wilson, meanwhile, is the perfect average guy. He's not as off-the-wall as his brother, and this quality serves the film well. The comedy wouldn't work if Matt came across as anything other than a nine-to-five schlub who goes out with a girl because he's lonely and suffering from unrequited love.

The ratio of successful comic moments to failed ones is pleasantly high - an unusual quality for a movie of this sort - and the picture never becomes so infatuated with its helium-filled narrative that it abandons humor for plot development. Yes, we end up caring about the characters to a degree (the jokes are built around them, not the other way around), but not to the extent that we want the movie to keep going beyond its natural running length. The ending is a little dragged out, but at least things are concluded in an amicable fashion. When it comes to satires of superhero behavior, My Super Ex-Girlfriend isn't quite on the level of last summer's Sky High (which, admittedly, had more fertile ground to explore), but it's not too far off the pace. After failures like The Break Upand You, Me and Dupree, it's nice to find a motion picture that knows where the funny bone is, and figures out how to tickle it.

My Super Ex-Girlfriend (United States, 2006)

Director: Ivan Reitman
Cast: Uma Thurman, Luke Wilson, Anna Faris, Rainn Wilson, Eddie Izzard
Screenplay: Don Payne
Cinematography: Don Burgess
Music: Teddy Castellucci
U.S. Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Run Time: 1:44
U.S. Release Date: 2006-07-21
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Sexual Situations, Profanity, Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1