Film: In a Rut

Zach Braff's latest, 'The Ex,' wallows in mediocrity

May 9, 2007 at 2:06 pm
The Weinstein Co

Jason Bateman (left) and Zach Braff do battle in The Ex.

Zach Braff needs a new shtick. His goofball, everyman charms worked well in the endearing yet derivative Garden State as well as his recurring character on TV's Scrubs. But The Last Kiss, a slightly more conventional variation on a twentysometing guy going through an identity crisis, signaled that Braff might want to expand his horizons.

Alas, now comes The Ex, yet another take on stunted adolescence that finds its leading man at a career crossroads. Braff is Tom Reilly, a sweet-natured regular guy with an accomplished, beautiful wife, Sofia (Amanda Peet), and a newborn baby. He's also got a serious problem when it comes to holding down a job — he's flitted between being a chef and magazine writer, among other endeavors, in an effort to find a fulfilling fit.

Concerned that he now has a family to support — Sofia is on maternity leave from her New York City law firm — Tom decides to take up his father-in-law's offer to work at an ad agency in suburban Ohio, which is when The Ex's comedic deficiencies really kick into gear.

Tom's new boss, Chip (Jason Bateman), is an asshole of immense proportions who's also paralyzed from the waist down, a condition that confines him to a wheelchair and which he rarely fails to use to his advantage. Oh, and he just happened to have slept with Sofia back in high school. A fierce, cliché-ridden rivalry ensues, a development that eventually starts to impact Tom's marriage and standing at work, all of which are presented with an alarming lack of subtlety (and believability) by director Jesse Peretz.

Peretz, working from a script by David Guion and Michael Handelman, approaches the setup in a remarkably straightforward manner, yielding a comedy that's as formulaic as a typical TV sitcom and, at 90 minutes, much more difficult to endure.

Worse, its talented cast of supporting players (Bateman, Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Fred Armisen, Amy Adams, Donal Logue) are underutilized, leaving Braff hanging in the wind with nothing but his rapidly eroding 15 minutes of fame. Grade: D+