TV is great for the way it fosters familiarity; seeing the same actors in the same likable roles week after week breeds loyalty. And there certainly are a great many familiar faces in The Ex to spread enough good will for two movies. Not only does it star TV comedy favourites Zack Braff (Scrubs), Amanda Peet (Studio 60) and Jason Bateman (Arrested Development), it also marks the first film role of Charles Grodin in 13 years and features supporting turns by Fred Armisen and Amy Poehler, two of the more talented members of the current class of Saturday Night Live. So how does a movie go so horribly wrong with so many friendly faces?
Braff is Tom, a short order cook who changes careers the way other people change socks. Peet is Sofia, Tom’s pregnant wife who’s leaving her own more stable career as a lawyer to be a stay-at-home mom. When Tom loses another job, Sofia chastises him for his selfishness, which makes Tom say that he’s taking it as a sign that he should take a job offer by Sofia’s father (Grodin) to work at the advertising firm he manages. So Tom moves his family to Ohio and starts his new job where he immediately runs up against Chip (Bateman), who dated Sofia while they were in high school and appears to still carry a torch and is not shy about letting Tom know it. Tom hates Chip, but then he hates hating Chip because Chip is paralyzed from the waist down. Oh, what is an average guy to do about an office irritant in a wheelchair?
It should be sufficient to say that The Ex is one of the most unoriginal comedies to be released in some time. The shame of it is that there are so many likable actors in it but they’re all playing such horrible cliches that it’s sometimes hard to watch or believe. You know the expression about having to laugh to stop from crying, I always thought that was a metaphor until today. Many of the jokes are stale and the jocular centrepiece where Tom, convinced that Chip is faking his paralysis, tosses him down the stairs is ruined by the trailer. Beyond that though just about any joke Chip could make at Tom’s expense is utilized and just about any way Tom can make an ass out of himself to his wife, his father-in-law or the office in general happens.
I fail to understand what it was about this material that made Grodin decide to get out of semi-retirement; it’s really nothing special (of course the same could be said for Jane Fonda’s choice of Monster-in-Law as a career jumpstarter). Bateman, who was so good as the straight-man on Arrested Development, does his very best to make Chip likeably evil, but even in his hands the character is less a…well, character, and more a bundle of broad comedy stereotypes. The same can be said for Braff and Peet though as they fall into sitcom patterns perfected in the days of Mad About You. About the only person that escapes unscathed is Wesley, the neighbour boy played by Lucian Maisel, who can swallow a hamburger in one bite making him the centrepiece of Tom’s one good idea.
Do yourself a favour and skip this one. Skip it now and forever, in the theatre, on DVD and even through to the days of being played ad nauseum on TBS. You can do yourself a further favour by renting DVDs of either Arrested Development or Scrubs and mix them up, it’s easily better than this movie.