Director : Jesse Peretz
Screenplay : David Guion & Michael Handelman
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2007
Stars : Zach Braff (Tom Reilly), Amanda Peet (Sofia Kowalski), Jason Bateman (Chip Sanders), Charles Grodin (Bob Kowalski), Mia Farrow (Amelia Kowalski), Lucian Maisel (Wesley), Donal Logue (Don Wollebin), Amy Poehler (Carol Lane), Fred Armisen (Manny), Bob Stephenson (Doug)
Jerks come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of mobility, as demonstrated in the new comedy The Ex, which has the gall to make its smarmy villain a wheelchair-bound creep. As played by Arrested Development's Jason Bateman with perfectly edged snarkiness that suggests a big “F--- you” beneath everything he says, Chip Sanders may be differently abled, but that doesn't mean he isn't also conniving, fiendish, and just downright mean.
The victim in Chip's crosshairs is Tom Reilly (Zack Braff), one of those good-natured guys who just can't seem to quite get it together. Tom is married to Sofia Kowalski (Amanda Peet), who is pregnant with their first child and expecting Tom to assume complete financial support of their family so she can be a full-time mom. The birth of the baby unfortunately coincides with Tom getting fired (again), this time from his job as a chef. To make good on his obligation to support his family, Tom agrees to accept a long-standing job offer at Sunburst, the ad agency where Sofia's father, Bob (Charles Grodin), works. So, Tom and Sofia pack up their life in New York City and move back to the small Ohio town where Sofia grew up.
Within second of stepping into the office, Tom realizes that Sunburst is not the place for him: It's a New Age-y kook-house in which everyone wears plastic smiles, dresses “business appropriate,” and throws around an invisible ball as a means of bonding. Tom makes a genuine effort to fit in, but everything he does is thwarted by Chip, who has had a pathological crush on Sofia ever since they were cheerleaders together back in high school (and had a one-night stand, a crucial bit of info Sofia withholds). It's doesn't help that Bob considers Chip to be “like a son,” and everyone at work thinks that Chip hung the moon.
The Ex works on roughly the same cringe-comedy principles as Meet the Parents (2000), where we have an average, likable, slightly befuddled hero out of his element and trying like mad to win approval. Zack Braff effectively works the same emasculated territory that Ben Stiller has made his métier, and it's amusing to see him constantly undercut by Chip's underhanded tactics, which range from the purposeful omission of important information that causes Tom to blow a big account, to putting gay porn on his laptop. With his bowties and pastel sweater vests, Chip is the beaming image of “Who me?” nastiness, and he tops it all off by shamelessly exploiting his own disability to make Tom as uncomfortable, embarrassed, and awkward as possible.
Independent film and music video director Jesse Peretz, who is making his Hollywood debut, stretches The Ex's premise about as far as it can go, and one could argue that the film's climax deflates some of its more perversely subversive tendencies (the best being Chip's inviting Sofia and her family to watch Coming Home, particularly its paraplegic love scene). When the material works, it is largely because the cast, most of whom are associated primarily with television, dive into it completely and invest the pratfalls and confrontations with a reckless energy. Even if The Ex doesn't always work, on some level you have to respect a summer Hollywood comedy that is daring enough to make you want to see the guy in the wheelchair thrown down the stairs.
Copyright ©2007 James Kendrick
Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick
All images copyright ©2007 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer