Director: Jesse Peretz
Cast: Zach Braff, Amanda Peet, Jason Bateman, Charles Grodin, Mia Farrow, Lucian Maisel, Donal Logue, Amy Poehler, Fred Armisen
MPAA Rating: (for sexual content, brief language and a drug reference)
Running Time: 1:30
Release Date: 5/11/07
Review by Mark Dujsik
Here's a movie so forgettable, with humor so uninspired, that, as I write this less than 24 hours after seeing it, I have to work pretty hard to actually remember it, and I have to really rack my brain to remember the few moments that I might have chuckled. The first thing a critic works from is his/her gut reaction: How did a movie make you feel? A problem arises in rare cases like The Ex where one has no feelings one way or the other about a movie. There's no sort of liking or disliking, loving or hating; it's just pure indifference. I'd almost prefer the active hatred of Norbit to the absolute apathy that comes from The Ex. Here we are, though, in one of those odd occurrences, and there's a certain objectivity that results. I can tell you The Ex is mean-spirited, features not a single likeable character, and resolves its less-than-sitcom-ish plot way too easily. I cannot honestly say that I disliked the movie because of this, because I simply did not care a bit. If I cared so little watching the movie, I do wonder just how little care went into the production itself.
Tom Reilly (Zach Braff) and his pregnant wife Sofia Kowalski (Amanda Peet) are getting ready for their first child. They're trying to figure out a name before Tom heads off to work as a chef for a restaurant in New York City. Sofia, meanwhile, works at a law firm and is paid quite well, but she wants to take time off from work to be a stay-at-home mom. Of all days, Tom decides to get into a food fight (I wish I were kidding) with his boss (a wasted cameo by Paul Rudd, but there are bigger names wasted later on) to stand up for a co-worker who's fired for a very legitimate reason. It was around this point that I think my apathy for the movie really kicked in, but there are more instances of adults acting like spoiled children to come. To sum up: After Sofia has their son, she and Tom move out to Ohio, where Sofia's parents (an even more wasted Charles Grodin and Mia Farrow—yes, Mia Farrow) have gotten them a house. Tom starts to work at the ad agency where Sofia's dad works and is put under the mentorship of Chip (Jason Bateman), who's in a wheelchair and has a history with Sofia.
The misery kicks in for Tom and Sofia just a bit later than it does for the audience. Tom's new job is full of happy-go-lucky folks who dress in "business appropriate," toss around an imaginary "yes ball," and write out apologies on Post-its. Yes, they're really that annoying. That's the point, of course, but it's a joke that gets tired really, really quickly, like right after a first go-around with the "yes ball." Meanwhile, Sofia sits around the house and befriends the kid next door Wesley (Lucian Maisel), who has a unique talent for eating small hamburgers in one bite, and becomes part of a new age baby group, where the mothers ask their baby's permission before doing anything. Tom has bigger problems than his and his wife's misery, as Chip starts an underhanded but obvious scheme to try to win over Sofia and mess over Tom. He doesn't help him out with ropes, takes him to a wheelchair basketball game and neglects to tell the other players he doesn't need to be in one, and shows his memory of old cheer routines when Sofia stops over for a visit (Bateman's creepy look of triumph when he gets Sofia in a hold is one of those few chuckles).
Chip's a jerk, and by the time the movie ends, he's worse than that. Here's a big problem, though: Tom's not much better. Sure, he's got the victim thing going for him, but otherwise, he's a whiny, lying, bitter guy. Not only does he get into that food fight, but in the course of the movie, he also sets fire to his the office (the foreshadowing of a really hot lamp is lamer than lame), gets his father-in-law fired, steals Wesley's skateboard, and, for some reason, cannot simply tell his wife he's miserable. Then again, neither can she, but it would sure save us a lot of time. Instead, Tom lets it get to the point where Chip comes over to console Sofia (by watching Coming Home, which earns another chuckle), and the dope throws Chip down a flight of stairs to prove a point in spite of everyone's absolute horror. I did enjoy Sofia telling Tom to call her when he calms down, because Zach Braff can't get to the point where he needs to calm down (he's at a four when they need him to be at least at a nine).
Everything works out ok for them, sorry to say. The cheap resolution of every complication in the movie's climax is just sad writing, as every character just seems to forget everything. Lots of other dumb, forgettable, unfunny things happen, but I just don't have the strength. It's incredibly apropos that The Ex contains the line, "I really only laugh when something funny happens." Self-criticism at its finest, that is.
Note: It should be mentioned that this is Charles Grodin's first movie in 13 years. In his downtime, he helped raise his son, became a television news commentator, wrote a play, and won a couple of social awards. Then he made this movie. Whoops.
Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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