The Ex (2007) / Comedy
aka Fast Track
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexual humor and language
Running Time: 88 min.
Cast: Zach Braff, Jason Bateman, Amanda Peet, Charles Grodin, Mia Farrow, Lucien Maisel, Fred Armisen, Amy Poehler, Donal Logue, Amy Adams, Paul Rudd (cameo), Romany Malco (cameo)
Director: Jesse Peretz
Screenplay: David Guion, Michael Handelman
Although billed as a romantic comedy, The Ex isn't. Although entitled The Ex, it's also not strictly about someone's "ex" either (formerly titled under a less disingenuous name, Fast Track -- ironic title, given how many times the film's release date has been delayed). In fact, the "ex" isn't even really an ex, just a former friend and one-time liaison. I'm guessing after Garden State, Braff is still polling well enough among viewers who enjoy romantic comedies, so the marketing strategy changed to try to garner broader interest.
So if it's not what it's marketed as, then what is it? Basically, it's a Ben Stiller-type comedy (a la Flirting with Disaster) with Zach Braff playing the lead instead of Ben. Your enjoyment of the film will greatly depend on how much you enjoy the typical comedies done by Stiller, and whether or not you think Braff does a better job at playing the hapless, misunderstood, immature ignoramus who means well, but just can't seem to keep from getting in trouble.
Braff plays Tom Reilly, a New York City cook who has just lost the latest in a string of many jobs, and with his wife, Sofia (Peet, A Lot Like Love), about to give birth and planning to be a stay-at-home mother (giving up a lucrative gig as an attorney), he knows money is going to be a serious issue. He decides it's time to take Sofia's father's (Grodin, Dave) job offer working for a "new age" advertising company, and relocate with wife and child to Ohio. Things don't end up being much better at his new job when his boss, a paraplegic advertising hotshot named Chip Sanders (Bateman, Smokin' Aces), makes as if he is trying to help his new pupil, when all the while, he is trying to ruin his life.
You see, Chip wants to break off another slice of Sofia, a former high school classmate and friend that he once had sex with. With Chip having the upper hand at work, Tom has a tough time keeping his cool, which begins to strain not only his performance on the job, but also in his marriage. Soon, everything comes down to a contest of wills between Tom and Chip for favor with the boss and the boss's daughter.
While certainly amiable enough to make for pleasant viewing for those who normally like broad, silly comedies, The Ex, which features a cast made up mostly of television stars, rarely rises above typical sitcom antics to become anything more than a prolonged episode of a show you'd see any one of the main players doing every week on the boob tube.
Jesse Peretz, a former music video director who made a minor indie splash with his low-budget feature, The Chateau (the main actors from that film chip in with small roles here), has enough of a gift to recognize what's funny and what isn't, but does have difficulty maintaining focus on his meandering plot. The Ex does tend to be a bit confusing when trying to figure out just what the film is really supposed to be about, and while many of the film's secondary players are funny ("SNL" regulars Armisen (Anchorman) and Poehler (Blades of Glory) contribute well), it soon becomes apparent that the little side jokes and characters are more interesting than the petty squabble at the heart of the film.
First-time screenwriters Guion and Handelman don't exactly contribute anything we haven't seen before, and one might suspect from the outtakes seen during the end credits that many of the film's politically incorrect gags were injected (and ad-libbed) to try to score some easy laughs. Wheelchair users may find some of the comedic material a bit insensitive, and there is an inordinate amount of humor playing around stereotypes about Hispanics (a racist caricature becomes a product mascot, for instance).
There's really not much tension in the tug-of-war between Chip and Tom, mostly because it seems very evident that Sofia isn't even close to being tempted to indulge in a tryst with the former fling. Perhaps it might have played better as just two men trying to find favor with the big boss at work, and while that angle is certainly cultivated early on, it is jettisoned in favor of scattershot gags and liberal amounts of slapstick. Things get a bit more uneven when an occasional moment of seriousness develops within the conversations, and even some mild attempts at deeper emotional content, but after we've already come to accept the film as only playing for silly laughs, such developments are a waste.
Despite the problems in the film's focus and the daftness of the characters, there are some solid laughs to be found, mostly in the film's middle section, when it seems like it is hitting a certain stride as an office comedy. Unfortunately, at all other times it ends up playing more like School for Scoundrels than Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and without someone with a strong enough comedic instinct to take charge and develop an honest-to-goodness story to wrap all of the shenanigans around, it ends up faring not much better than Employee of the Month in terms of workplace comedies. I suspect that most of these already-in-primetime players will keep their day jobs for just a little while longer.
©2007 Vince Leo