Zach Braff, Jason Bateman, and Amanda Peet are all stars of highly praised but little watched TV shows: "Scrubs," "Arrested Development," and "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," respectively. They do their darnedest to make "The Ex" work, and in the process demonstrate that talented actors can turn a so-so script into something mildly worthwhile, but come on, they're not miracle workers.
In this uneven, occasionally farcical comedy, Braff and Peet play a married couple, Tom and Sofia, who have a baby and move back to Sofia's Ohio hometown so that Tom can take a job at his father-in-law's advertising agency. Called Sunburst, it's one of those touchy-feely modern offices where they say things like "shift the paradigm," ride Segways, and toss around an invisible "Yes Ball" as a means of inspiring creativity. Sofia's father, Bob (Charles Grodin), doesn't run the place, but he's high enough up the ladder that he could secure a spot for his son-in-law.
Bob hands Tom's training duties over to Chip Sanders (Bateman), a smarmy, wheelchair-bound man who dated Sofia back in high school. He's like the son Bob never had, while Tom is like the directionless, financially insolvent son-in-law Bob does have.
Tom is inclined to be jealous of Chip anyway, considering he once dated (and slept with) Tom's wife, but Chip makes it worse by being a smug jerk. He sabotages Tom's work and plays mind games with him, using his disability to his advantage and making Tom appear insensitive. He does it all subtlely, of course, so that he remains spotless in the eyes of his other co-workers.
Meanwhile, Sofia is bored at home with the baby and unhappy not to have found any new friends since moving back to Ohio. She lets a neighbor kid, Wesley (Lucian Maisel), come hang out, just so she'll have someone to talk to.
Written by newcomers David Guion and Michael Handelman, the film is best when it avoids the physical comedy and sticks with the verbal. SNL's Amy Poehler and Fred Armisen wring laughs out of average dialogue as two Sunburst employees, and Bateman and Braff have amply proven their agility with comedic delivery already. They're both playing their TV characters, really: Bateman's Chip is smarter than everyone else and can insult you without you knowing it, while Braff's Tom is all goofy and soft-voiced, even when he's trying to be angry. Peet, sadly, isn't given much to do, but she does it with her typical smart-pretty-girl boldness.
The film is considerably less inspired when it dabbles in slapstick, which director Jesse Peretz invariably stages in a way that is too big and broad for what is supposed to be a subversive, character-driven comedy. It's not enough for Tom to get fired from a restaurant job for insubordination; it has to be a huge food fight between him and his boss (Paul Rudd in a brief cameo). Not that any of the film is "believable," particularly, but it's usually closer to reality than that.
And so it goes. It's good to see Braff doing something other than the mopey emo thing in movies ("The Last Kiss" -- ugh), and it's good to see Bateman in movies at all. Their efforts elevate "The Ex" into something worth watching. Just imagine what they could do with a script that was really good to begin with.
The DVD is billed as the "unrated" edition. The changes from the theatrical version are not marked, but one thing is certain: The movie is now shorter. It was 89 minutes theatrically, and 83 minutes now. I specifically remember one early scene that has been removed, a slapstick-y bit at the hospital when Sofia is in labor and Tom is looking for an anesthesiologist. (I even mentioned it in my review as an example of the out-of-place wackiness. Apparently someone else thought so, too.)
Beyond that, I can't identify what else has been removed or changed; it's been four months since I saw the original version. The DVD "unrated" edition has no additional F-words or nudity or anything else that's usually associated with "unrated" editions. It's more like a director's cut, or a revised version, or a second draft. And calling it "unrated" is, of course, just a marketing ploy.
Furthermore, I'm told that while the unrated version has eight deleted scenes, the PG-13 version has 20! Why the "unrated" version would have less content, not more, I have no idea.
There are English and Spanish subtitles. There are no alternate language soundtracks.
UPDATE:Thanks to some readers who have come forward with additional details, I now know that there are three different versions of this DVD floating around: the unrated widescreen version I reviewed; the theatrical PG-13 widescreen version; and a fullscreen version that is (I assume) also the theatrical PG-13 version. Amazon.com only lists the unrated and the fullscreen, so I assumed those were the only options. I also assumed they were the same except for the widescreen/fullscreen difference.
VIDEO: The anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer is fairly good, with vivid colors and a nice balance. No noticeable blemishes or defects.
AUDIO: Typical Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. Perfectly good for a light comedy like this.
EXTRAS: There are eight brief deleted scenes, totaling just under 6 minutes, that mostly address minor plot points. No major jokes or laughs, though Jason Bateman did get a chuckle out of me with one of his reactions. Curiously, the hospital scene I mentioned earlier -- which was in the theatrical cut -- is not included as a deleted scene.
An alternate opening sequence (1:33) is simply a different way of leading into the film, with an aerial shot of New York, the sounds of a woman angrily breaking up with her boyfriend, and the sight of her throwing his clothes out of an upper-story window.
Two alternate endings basically do the same thing as the official ending, only in slightly different ways.
The blooper reel is less than 3 minutes long, but hey, people messing up is always funny. We'll take what we can get.
The movie's theatrical trailer is also included.
This isn't a great movie by any means, and the DVD treatment is shabby. (No commentary? No making-of doc?) But it's certainly worth a rental.
(Note: Most of the "movie review" portion of this article comes from the review I wrote when the movie was released theatrically. I have re-watched it in the course of reviewing the DVD, however.)