Movie review by Greg Carlson
“The Ex” could have been a bitingly funny satire of young adult insecurities that occur in the first flush of parenthood, job loss, and relocation. Instead, it is an intermittently funny trifle that largely wastes the formidable talents of its cast in favor of a series of up and down gags. Director Jesse Peretz goes about his business with workmanlike efficiency, but the screenplay by first timers David Guion and Michael Handelman lacks sophistication and smarts. Several moments capture the hilarious awkwardness of the Farrelly brothers at their best, but the plotting is as formulaic as a junior high school drama production.
As Tom Reilly, Zach Braff plays another variation of his self-effacing, flip charmer. Chef Tom is married to out-of-his-league lawyer Sofia Kowalski (Amanda Peet), and he happens to get fired from his job on the very day his wife gives birth to their first child. Far too much time is spent milking the mostly unfunny labor sequence, which plays like a loop of all the familiar delivery room clichés. Even worse, it is preceded by a slapstick food fight that mostly squanders the cameo appearance of Paul Rudd as Tom’s hateful boss.
Tom and Sofia make the radical decision to leave New York City in order to move near her parents in Ohio. While Sofia takes care of the baby, Tom accepts a position as a “assistant associate creative” at the cutesy advertising agency where her father Bob (Charles Grodin) is employed. Grodin, who has not appeared in a feature for more than a decade, is a welcome addition to any movie, and his fans will be reminded of more exquisitely painful exercises in hubris and humiliation from years ago. Sadly, “The Ex” is closer to “Beethoven” than “The Heartbreak Kid.” Even so, one wishes that Grodin would spend more time on screen.
Despite Grodin’s return to movies, “The Ex” is a showcase for Jason Bateman, one of the most underrated comic performers of his generation. Longtime supporters were vindicated during the abbreviated run of “Arrested Development,” which showcased Bateman’s chops in the role of a lifetime. In “The Ex,” Bateman plays paraplegic Chip Sanders, a creepy co-worker of Tom and Bob who backstabs and manipulates on a seemingly minute-by-minute basis. Chip is never shy about using his disability to his advantage, and he finds a new enemy in Tom.
The origin of Chip’s vendetta against Tom is traced to a brief high school romance between Chip and Sofia, and Tom is routinely treated to the intimate details of Chip’s lovemaking prowess. In the movie’s best scene, Chip treats Sofia and her folks to an outrageously inappropriate movie night. Most of “The Ex” is devoted to the escalating rivalry between Chip and Tom. No matter how hard Tom struggles to expose Chip’s cruelty, he seems destined to suffer a series of bitter defeats. As dictated by the conventions of the genre, however, all is well that ends well as “The Ex” ties up its loose ends. One imagines it might have been a better movie had it given in to the darker side of its nature.
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 5/14/07.