"Nothing burns like an old flame," indeed.
In The Ex, Zach Braff (Garden State, Scrubs) plays Tom Reilly, a nice, sometimes-employed New York chef whose biggest blessing and curse is his ability to detect bullsh!it in people--and then not be able to keep himself from calling them on it. When Tom's lawyer wife Sofia (Amanda Peet) decides she wants to stay at home with their new baby, they realize they aren't going to be able to make ends meet in Manhattan--especially since he just lost another job. So Tom decides it's time to finally take her dad up on his offer to get him a job at his advertising agency back in good ole Ohio.
Except when Tom starts the job, Sofia's ex-boyfriend, Chip Sanders (Jason Bateman) turns out to be his boss. He also turns out to be an evil ass bent on destroying Tom and winning Sofia back. Unfortunately, no one else seems to notice it.
I'll let you in on a little movie industry secret: The Ex was originally supposed to be released a few months ago under the title Fast Track. It was delayed (never a good sign) and renamed, but nonetheless, word of how un-good it was dribbled to me through the grapevine of other critics who'd seen it back then. As a die-hard Zach Braff fan, I still wanted to see it, but I was prepared to be saddened, depressed, and ready, even, to give it a pity boost in its score due to my pre-existing pro-Braff-bias.
Luckily, I will have to do no such thing. I am not sure what happened in the intervening months, but I liked The Ex--much more than I was expecting to. Sure, there were problems. For example, Braff, as much as I love him, was essentially his neurotic but funny Scrubs character J.D. in this new situation. Which at this point I am going to assume is basically him being himself. And that's fine. A lot of actors, in fact most, aren't Meryl Streep; you see their movies because you like that person, and a different movie is basically just them in a different scenario.
The script, written by newcomers David Guion and Michael Handelman, is fairly intelligent and well-written for the most part. Having done some time in the advertising trenches myself, I can tell you unequivocally that their portrayal of the goofy, wanna-be-hip Sunburst Communications, with its glass "think tank" conference room and "Assistant Associate Creatives" is dead-on. I even have a former coworker who created a character eerily similar to the Senor Tomato of which Jason Bateman's character is so proud.
It's far from perfect, though. The movie dawdles around at the beginning with the birth of the baby, and you get the feeling it was just included because the writers thought it was a funny scene because it in no way moves the movie forward at all. Mostly, you get the feeling while you're watching The Ex that with a little more work and a little more envelope pushing, it had the potential to be Meet the Parents funny. Instead, some of the jokes are obvious, retreads of old '80s stock sitcom plots (spongy bats to hit each other with during therapy? Come on!).
The bigger issue was pacing. I'm not sure if it has to do with director Jesse Peretz (The Chateau) or editing decisions or what, but jokes just somehow hung in the air instead of collecting their laugh and moving on.
The supporting cast, made up of Charles Grodin (Midnight Run, The Incredible Shrinking Woman) and Mia Farrow (Rosemary's Baby, Hannah and Her Sisters) is great, if underused. And there are some seriously choice cameos by SNL alums Amy Poehler (Blades of Glory) and Fred Armisen (Aqua Teen Hunger Force: The Movie), as well as Amy Adams (Junebug, Talladega Nights) and Donal Logue (The Tao of Steve, Just Like Heaven). Paul Rudd, in particular, (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, The Object of My Affection) is especially fantastic in his moment as Leon, Tom's arrogant jerk of a boss at the restaurant.
But the real VIP of The Ex is Jason Bateman. He lives his (albeit awesome) Arrested Development character of Michael Bluth behind as he inhabits Chip, the complete weenie of a bad guy that you will absolutely love to watch--and hate.
Is The Ex the most amazing comedy I have ever seen? Well, no. But I'll tell you, I had fun watching it.