Here is a list of actors who appear in Jesse Peretz's The Ex: Jason Bateman, Zach Braff, Amanda Peet, Charles Grodin, Mia Farrow, Amy Poehler, Fred Armisen, Amy Adams, Donal Logue, Josh Charles and Paul Rudd. Every single one of 'em is a very talented actor who can really deliver the laughs -- given the right material.
Here is a list of actors who appear in Jesse Peretz's The Ex without delivering one single laugh over the course of 81 resoundingly wretched minutes: Jason Bateman, Zach Braff, Amanda Peet, Charles Grodin, Mia Farrow, Amy Poehler, Fred Armisen, Amy Adams, Donal Logue, Josh Charles and Paul Rudd. It's almost like a world's record: How long can a movie stocked with really funny people go on without doling out, at minimum, one mild chuckle? Comedy experts may one day look at The Ex with a scientific eye. Aspiring filmmakers should check it out as a lesson plan from Bizarro World: Make a movie that's the exact opposite of The Ex and it could be the funniest film ever made.
Since humor and "what's funny" are entirely subjective things (meaning that you might find "cripple humor" the pinnacle of all things hilarious whereas I can't help but see such material as obvious, desperate and witless), I'll leave my "zero laughs" opinion at the door and just explain how terribly-made The Ex is. (Basically picture the lamest, longest sitcom pilot you can possibly imagine.) You may have heard of this movie under its original title (Fast Track) or knew a little something about its three or four previous release dates, but it's now limping into theaters with no fanfare whatsoever, desperately hoping to dupe a few fans of Scrubs and Arrested Development into buying a ticket.
Don't be that dupe. Yes, Zach Braff is often very funny in Scrubs and Jason Bateman absolutely redefined deadpan brilliance in Arrested Development -- but those are two of the smarter sitcoms to hit TV over the last five years, whereas The Ex is one of the stupidest movies in twice that long. I can plainly see why a well-regarded "sitcom star" would be anxious to leap feet-first into the multiplexes, but if that means slumming through dreck like The Ex, which is one of the driest, broadest, dumbest, and most shoddily-constructed farces you'll ever see, Bateman and Braff might be better off in syndication.
The plot (and I use the word lightly) is this: Braff plays an immature jerk who steps into a new advertising job under his father-in-law -- only to butt heads with a handicapped ass who used to have a thing for his girl. First-time screenwriters David Guion and Michael Handelman seem more than content to let that non-premise unfold slowly, but they're also kind enough to toss a bunch of arbitrary subplots into the mix, most of which were seemingly inspired by whoever happened to stop by the set for a visit. ("Hey, Amy Poehler's here! Let's write her a few scenes!") And whenever things get boring, which is often, Braff gets whacked in the head or falls off his bike. Jeez. To be fair, the script for this movie could have been a masterpiece, but what's hitting theaters this weekend is a formless, mirthless and entirely childish experience. And why Charles Grodin chose this shapeless mass, after avoiding movies for about 13 years, I'll simply never know.
I think the "joke" of the movie is that Braff's character is supposed to be a nice guy who doesn't know how to handle conflict when it involves a man who is paralyzed from the waist down -- while Bateman's character is supposed to be ... what? A wretchedly hateful and manipulative bastard who exploits his own physical handicap just to make someone angry? Where's the punch line there? It's not that I'm necessarily offended by a scene in which a "cripple" is tossed down a flight of stairs. I'm offended that nobody bothered to try and find a way to MAKE the scene funny. It'd take a comic genius to make a scene like that work. Suffice to say Guion, Handelman and Peretz are not geniuses.
Rarely has a movie under 85 minutes felt this long. The already-flimsy plot is sidetracked over and over by meager subplots (Amanda Peet is saddled with a "bored in suburbia" side-story that would have felt stale in a Honeymooners episode.) You can practically feel Peretz and his three (!) editors desperately trying to stretch this abomination into a feature-length affair. The movie doesn't have a three-act structure or a logical plot. It's got masking tape and stretch marks. I'm guessing the Weinsteins are referring to the theatrical cut as "version #342."
And it's really a shame, too. I'm a huge fan of colorful ensemble farces, and as I scanned through the cast list for The Ex I thought, "Hey cool, here comes a little under-the-radar comedy that I'd really LIKE to enjoy. I dig practically every actor in the cast!" It took about fifteen laugh-free minutes for me to get worried, 35 to get annoyed, and then another 28 to get depressed. Obviously re-cut a dozen times and finally slogging into a few theaters (most likely thanks only to contractual obligations), the thing's not just unfunny; it's hardly even a movie. And if someone as naturally amusing as Jason Bateman can go from a peak like Arrested Development to a valley like The Ex, it makes me realize that good writers must be really freakin' hard to come by these days.