In a movie that is nothing if not ambiguous it’s only fitting that the title is misleading: The “ex” is only a former friend/fling. At least something’s mildly amusing. It starts out straightforward enough with slacker Tom (Zach Braff) being fired from his job as a chef after a food fight with his boss (a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him Paul Rudd). But with his wife Sofia (Amanda Peet) about to give birth poverty just won’t do. So they move from Manhattan to more economical Ohio where Tom takes up his father-in-law (Charles Grodin) on a standing offer to work for him in a job that Tom expects to be a regular nine-to-fiver. But as Tom immediately discovers this is no normal desk job and these are not normal coworkers. He gets off to a rough start with his supervisor wheelchair-bound Chip (Jason Bateman) after eating his yogurt. Further complicating matters it turns out Chip had a crush on and one-night-stand with Sofia back in high school—even though he’s the “ex” the title refers to—and is apparently now jealous. So he makes Tom’s life miserable and some off-the-wall variation of the standard formula ensues: Everyone believes Chip over Tom Tom loses Sofia and her father loses his job. Now he has to win back his father-in-law’s job and his wife while proving to everyone that Chip isn’t the saint he appears to be. It’s a television junkie’s dream to have this trio of small-screen leads together on the big screen—well it’s really a nightmare. Come to think of it maybe plucking the bulk of the cast from TV series (Scrubs for Braff; Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip for Peet; Arrested Development for Bateman) isn’t the best way to pinch millions from the budget. When Braff does his silly-sensitive Scrubs shtick in the movie it’s as funny as it is on the show but it’s totally not right for his character which is when he switches to serious mode a la his recent Last Kiss. Yeah he’s as confused as we are. Peet is uncharacteristically a non-entity in the movie whereas she is usually more vocal in her movies even if in a supporting role. And Bateman comes close a few times to successfully replicating Michael Bluth’s sardonic wit but then he hangs a sharp turn and delivers an inane unfunny line or physical outburst. The constant flux of bad-to-horrific acting can be as difficult to articulate as it is to comprehend. On the other hand veteran actor Grodin’s performance is very easily explained: It’s not only bad it’s irritating to the ear! And the miscasts go on with Mia Farrow an acting legend in a bit part as Grodin’s wife and near cameos from Donal Logue (Grounded for Life) SNL-ers Amy Poehler and Fred Armisen and Amy Adams (Junebug). Let’s revisit that title for a moment. As if the current misnomer wasn’t enough The Ex was formerly called Fast Track. Coincidentally once the movie was pushed back several times—which makes you think how bad this one must’ve been without whatever 11th-hour edits and reshoots were made—the title was changed perhaps in an attempt to dissuade a review from mentioning the irony in the title. But the Weinstein brothers should’ve known long before the title conundrum that this one was doomed. The script from first-timers Michael Handelman and David Guion must have undergone major overhauls as well because no script as bad as The Ex’s would have ever been greenlit. In fact it was probably originally something akin to a Cable Guy/Meet the Parents/Flirting with Disaster/Farrelly brothers hybrid but director Jesse Peretz’s movie is nowhere near those. The tone is just so unclear that it makes the actors look like they don’t even know their places—and yet it’s so damn transparent. And when the director is kind enough to carve out what is supposed to be a comedic scene it's Zach Braff taking a tumble on his bike or that good old wheelchair humor. Usually when a movie is called a “dramedy” there is drama and comedy; thus The Ex starts a new genre: “The attempted dramedy.”
Luke (Steven Strait) and Brier (Pell James) first cross paths on a New York City subway before the doors shut on their instant attraction to one another. Of course it is immediately and abundantly clear that they will naturally meet up again before long but where and how? The answers: L.A. and well it's complicated. Each having forgotten about the other Brier a top model in NYC decides she needs a change of scenery and tells her agent (Carrie Fisher clearly in it for the paycheck) she's heading out to L.A. to pursue acting while Luke and his brother Euan (Kip Pardue) decide to move to the West Coast as well. Once there Brier befriends Clea (Ashlee Simpson) and on her first night in town takes Brier to a local dive bar where Luke works as a struggling "musician." Wow that's some coincidence. There is an instant re-connection between Luke and Brier but she refuses to get involved with musicians since her rock-star ex mistreated her. Instead she shifts her focus on generating buzz for Luke. Eventually Luke gets the big recording contract becomes the rock-star jerk he'd swore he'd never become and loses it all. But all is well when Brier decides she can no longer resist Luke's ballads and Metallica-guitarist-circa-'85 hair.
The theme of Undiscovered could apply to its cast. Each of the four leads are on the cusp of being on the cusp and certainly they hope this movie will take them one step closer. For James that might happen. She is a natural on screen and gives a breakthrough performance as the comely Brier. Strait is also a relative newcomer. After turning his debut performance in this summer's Sky High he holds his own in Undiscovered but seems to be relegated to taking his shirt off to make the teenyboppers swoon. Finally there's Simpson who is also making her major-role debut. It's awkward to see her on-screen and yes subconsciously you wait for her to make a noticeable mistake (or butcher a voice-over due to acid reflux). Of course it doesn't happen; she moves along pretty smoothly but is at times subjected to dialogue that seems beyond her especially when she has to words big words such as "banter." And certainly it's not her fault when she describes Luke--a musician best left struggling--as "a cross between Jeff Buckley and Elvis Costello." That's just someone else's words she reciting.
Prolific music-video director Meiert Avis is making his feature film directorial debut with Undiscovered--and his obvious greenness shows. At times the film is more like a music video surrounded by a weak storyline than a cohesive film. His expertise in the rather linear realm of music videos doesn't exactly qualify him for the complexities of a 90-minute film contrived and straightforward as his debut may be. Avis tries to employ every possible clichéd obstacle for the characters to overcome--which reeks of inexperience but could also be the screenwriter's fault. No doubt Avis feels at home with newcomers such as Strait and Simpson who--for all intents and purposes--sing and act but the plethora of singing scenes feel forced. That is forced into the script to showcase the soundtrack when the movie goes undiscovered at the box office.