by Jeff Meyers
Depressing as some might find this, the Farrelly brothers have made it OK for us to laugh at the handicapped. Oh, not really, but their "canon" of rude-but-heartwarming film comedies certainly makes the case for equal opportunity abuse; a comedic mainstreaming, if you will. Not since Dr. Strangelove has anyone had the balls to cast a cripple as a convincing comedic villain, and as far as I can recall, not one that wielded disability as a psychological weapon. Which is what makes watching The Ex such a frustrating experience.
You can see the good idea that inspired this tepid comedy which has seen its title change almost as much as its release date but layers of sitcom affectations and gutless character choices undermine its promise.
Zach Braff plays Tom Reilly, a career slacker who has just lost yet another job. Desperate to support his wife Sofia (Amanda Peet), who wants to trade lawyering for mommydom, he accepts an offer from his adman father-in-law (Charles Grodin) to trade life in the Big Apple for small town Ohio. Working at a new agency as an "assistant associate creative," Tom soon finds himself working with office hotshot and paraplegic Chip (Jason Bateman). A former HS classmate of Sofia's, Chip's modest and munificent facade hides a calculating bastard with a hard-on for Tom's wife. Misunderstanding, manipulation and mayhem ensue.
It's pretty fertile comedic ground, and a better film would exploit our PC sensibilities to yield some wickedly inspired laughs. Unfortunately, there's no edge to The Ex. Tom is hapless but far too earnest: We never believe for a moment that his marriage is in danger. And first-time screenwriters David Guion and Michael Handelman puss out when it comes to Chip's disability. Instead of a ballsy farce, we end up with the kind of affable scattershot gags you find in a Ben Stiller vehicle. As a result, the film's most brilliant idea Chip attempting to seduce Sofia in front of her parents by screening Coming Home comes off as creepy not funny.
Veterans of two of the better recent sitcoms, Braff (Scrubs) and Bateman (Arrested Development) earn their laughs but never fully rise above their TV origins. Bateman comes closest to running away with things but just isn't given enough to work with. Grodin, always a joy to watch, does what he can in a thankless part. Amanda Peet trades her trademark bitch persona for the quirky love interest role she's cultivated on Studio 60. The talented supporting cast Mia Farrow, Amy Poehler, Amy Adams, Donal Logue and Paul Rudd is pretty much wasted in throwaway roles.
How much you enjoy The Ex will depend on your love of films like School for Scoundrels and Along Came Polly; which in my case wasn't very much at all.
Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.