Theory of a Deadman called, they want their title back. Anton Yelchin, Ashley Greene and Alexandra Daddario star in Burying the Ex.
Director – Joe Dante
Screenplay – Alan Trezza
Producer – Alan Trezza, David Johnson, Frankie Lindquist, Mary Cybriwsky, Carl Effenson & Kyle Tekiela
Rated R for sexual content, partial nudity, some horror violence, and language
Max (Anton Yelchin) is a cult horror film aficionado who’s in a relationship with uber-environmentalist Evelyn (Ashley Greene). Things seem to be going well, but when they finally decide to take the next step and move in together, Max gradually becomes more and more dissatisfied and unhappy with the direction his relationship with the overbearing, manipulative tree hugger is going. Yet despite his unhappiness, he lacks the cojones to just break up with her. That’s when fate steps in and decides to help the poor guy out when Evelyn’s killed in a freak accident with a city bus.
Probably isn’t even one of those green hybrid buses either. Serves the bitch right though.
Now single, Max is thinking about beginning a new relationship with Olivia (Alexandria Daddario), a horror-themed ice cream shop owner that, no surprise, Max sees as the perfect girl for him. But just as he’s about to move on with the girl of his dreams, he’s shocked to discover that Evelyn has returned from the dead and will do everything she can to assure she and Max are together forever.
Beginning in the late ’70s and continuing on through the following decade, Joe Dante was one of the big Steven Spielberg proteges who excelled at the art of B-movie cult films. Even if you removed Gremlins, easily his most successful film, from his filmography, you’re still left with his breakthrough Piranha (which Spielberg referred to as the best of the Jaws ripoffs), the straightforward horror flick The Howling, one of the better contributions to Twilight Zone: The Movie (“It’s a Good Life”), Explorers, Innerspace and The ‘Burbs.
However, it’s been forever and a day since Dante delivered the goods like he did throughout the ’80s. His last two wide releases, Small Soldiers and Looney Tunes: Back in Action, were middling efforts that underperformed at the box office (I can’t speak for his 2009 limited release fantasy/horror film The Hole since I haven’t seen it, though I’ve heard good things). It’s a shame that Burying the Ex, based on screenwriter Alan Trezza’s short story, isn’t the return to form I had hoped it to be.
It’s not that Dante needed much to work with. This is the same guy that worked magic with small furry creatures whose mythology revolved solely around three simple rules. Gremlins, though, had two likeable leads, Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates, and an immensely endearing character in Gizmo. Burying the Ex has a talented young cast stuck with three shallow, thinly written characters. Greene is the shrill eco-Nazi; Alexandra Daddario, who brought great depth to a recurring role in True Detective, is the polar opposite sugary sweet gal next door type. Anton Yelchin is a fine young actor and the most talented of the three, though to be fair he’s had a few more stronger opportunities to prove himself (terrific supporting work in Alpha Dog and The Beaver). He’s good at playing these shy, geeky roles, but the problem is that Trezza broadstrokes the two female characters as the Devil Incarnate or Miss 100% Perfect, with no room for grey in either, that you can’t genuinely feel sorry for Max having to put up with such crap from Evelyn (as much as he just takes it without standing up for himself, he’s got it coming anyway), nor do you really care if he and Olivia wind up together.
Of course, characterization isn’t the top priority for a horror comedy provided it can be both thrilling and entertaining, and that’s first and foremost what’s asked of here (although a little more into the half-hearted demon doll deus ex machina that’s behind the undead curse would’ve been nice). It’s not like Billy and Kate in Gremlins were Godfather-esque character studies, but like I said, they were likeable protagonists, and most importantly, Dante brought a vibe to the film that was such fun thanks to its sly humor and first-rate practical effects. That’s mainly why, though not high on my most anticipated list, I was at least curious about this film considering how much it’s right up Dante’s alley. The zombie effects here still provide glimpses of trademark Dante, courtesy of special makeup effects designer Gary J. Tunnicliffe, but the thrill is mostly gone, and even at a lean 88 minutes, Dante and Trezza seem like they’re stretching and straining the story for a feature-length run time.
The cast do their best with the weak material. Greene, in particular, despite her character being thoroughly obnoxious right out of the gate, has fun with the role once she turns undead. Dante’s chops for dark wit makes a brief appearance when Evelyn and Max go to a Gothic night club and she downs three shots of Absinthe like a child sucking Juicy Juice from a sippy cup (a rare moment of Trezza actually letting her out of the apartment when he mostly, and mistakenly, keeps her cooped up inside). But in the end, it’s unfortunately far from enough to make up for the mistakes.
Despite three game performances from Yelchin, Greene and Daddario, a proven director in Joe Dante and a schlock premise that’s right in his wheelhouse, Burying the Ex suffers mostly from Alan Trezza’s poor script and trio of thin characters. Most disappointingly, and what could’ve ultimately compensated for Trezza’s shortcomings is the film’s lack of humor and energy, a surprising letdown from a director who’s best films thrived on both elements.
I give Burying the Ex a D+ (★½).