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The Ex

Awards season begins and ends early this year: The Ex, utterly unclear from title to end, is the 2007 Worst of the First Half winner. And it's hard to fathom anything, uh, bottoming this one in the second half of '07.


In a movie that is nothing if not ambiguous, it's only fitting that the title is misleading: The "ex" is only a former friend/fling. At least something's mildly amusing. It starts out straightforward enough, with slacker Tom (Zach Braff) being fired from his job as a chef after a food fight with his boss (a blink-and-you'll-miss-him Paul Rudd). But with his wife, Sofia (Amanda Peet), about to give birth, poverty just won't do. So they move from Manhattan to more economical Ohio, where Tom takes up his father-in-law (Charles Grodin) on a standing offer to work for him in a job that Tom expects to be a regular nine-to-fiver. But as Tom immediately discovers, this is no normal desk job and these are not normal coworkers. He gets off to a rough start with his supervisor, wheelchair-bound Chip (Jason Bateman), after eating his yogurt. Further complicating matters, it turns out Chip had a crush on and one-night-stand with Sofia back in high school—even though he's the "ex" the title refers to—and is apparently now jealous. So he makes Tom's life miserable, and some off-the-wall variation of the standard formula ensues: Everyone believes Chip over Tom, Tom loses Sofia, and her father loses his job. Now he has to win back his father-in-law's job and his wife while proving to everyone that Chip isn't the saint he appears to be.


It's a television junkie's dream to have this trio of small-screen leads together on the big screen—well, it's really a nightmare. Come to think of it, maybe plucking the bulk of the cast from TV series (Scrubs for Braff; Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip for Peet; Arrested Development for Bateman) isn't the best way to pinch millions from the budget. When Braff does his silly-sensitive Scrubs shtick in the movie, it's as funny as it is on the show, but it's totally not right for his character, which is when he switches to serious mode a la his recent Last Kiss. Yeah, he's as confused as we are. Peet is uncharacteristically a non-entity in the movie, whereas she is usually more vocal in her movies, even if in a supporting role. And Bateman comes close a few times to successfully replicating Michael Bluth's sardonic wit, but then he hangs a sharp turn and delivers an inane, unfunny line or physical outburst. The constant flux of bad-to-horrific acting can be as difficult to articulate as it is to comprehend. On the other hand, veteran actor Grodin's performance is very easily explained: It's not only bad, it's irritating to the ear! And the miscasts go on with Mia Farrow, an acting legend, in a bit part as Grodin's wife, and near cameos from Donal Logue (Grounded for Life), SNL-ers Amy Poehler and Fred Armisen, and Amy Adams (Junebug).


Let's revisit that title for a moment. As if the current misnomer wasn't enough, The Ex was formerly called Fast Track. Coincidentally, once the movie was pushed back several times—which makes you think how bad this one must've been without whatever 11th-hour edits and reshoots were made—the title was changed, perhaps in an attempt to dissuade a review from mentioning the irony in the title. But the Weinstein brothers should've known long before the title conundrum that this one was doomed. The script, from first-timers Michael Handelman and David Guion, must have undergone major overhauls as well, because no script as bad as The Ex's would have ever been greenlit. In fact, it was probably originally something akin to a Cable Guy/Meet the Parents/Flirting with Disaster/Farrelly brothers hybrid, but director Jesse Peretz's movie is nowhere near those. The tone is just so unclear that it makes the actors look like they don't even know their places—and yet it's so damn transparent. And when the director is kind enough to carve out what is supposed to be a comedic scene, it's Zach Braff taking a tumble on his bike or that good old wheelchair humor. Usually when a movie is called a "dramedy" there is drama and comedy; thus The Ex starts a new genre: "The attempted dramedy."

Bottom Line rated this film 1/2 star.