“The Ex” isn’t so much a movie with a plot as it is a filmed series of situations in which Zach Braff a) injures himself, b) humiliates himself, or c) both.
Borrowing early and often from “Meet the Parents” and “You, Me & Dupree,” this desperate comedy finds Braff starring as bumbling straight man Tom (sorta like his role on “Scrubs”), who always manages to say and do the most painfully awkward things around his wacky in-laws and co-workers, people with whom he’s never in sync.
Most of these moments involve Chip (Jason Bateman), the chipper high school boyfriend of his wife, Sofia (Amanda Peet), who uses a wheelchair because he’s paralyzed from the waist down. Everyone thinks Chip is a real go-getter, an inspiration. But Tom knows he’s up to no good, sabotaging him at the New Agey advertising firm where they both work and single-mindedly trying to insinuate himself back in Sofia’s life.
The film from director Jesse Peretz, from a script by first-timers David Guion and Michael Handelman, is never funny and repeatedly falls flat. It simultaneously feels truncated and interminable, and it grossly wastes the comic talents of Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Donal Logue and Charles Grodin, making his first movie in 13 years.
Grodin plays Tom’s overbearing, know-it-all father-in-law, Bob, an exec at the ad agency where Tom is forced to work because he has no other options. For financial reasons, he and Sofia have moved with their newborn son to Sofia’s Ohio hometown from New York, where Tom was a chef. Mia Farrow, meanwhile, gets to say about four lines as Sofia’s spacey mom, who appears to have gotten a lobotomy along with some Botox and collagen injections.
Tom has no idea how to be an ad man, but Chip sure does. He’s the company’s shining star, and looks the part of an eager-beaver Eddie Haskell type in his bow ties and sweater vests. He also happens to have been Sofia’s partner on the cheerleading team, a detail he keeps bringing up obsessively. (Bateman has mastered smug, deadpan humor as star of the sadly defunct TV series “Arrested Development,” but here he’s asked to go from vaguely creepy to sociopathic, which he doesn’t wear as well.)
And so Tom stumbles through each day, being hit in the head with a snowboard, falling on his face on the gym floor when Chip asks him to join in a wheelchair basketball game, crashing his bike into a convertible. And Sofia stays home each day with the baby, whining about how she misses practicing law and insisting that Chip really is a great guy, and that Tom is just being paranoid.
Poehler barely gets a chance to register as the only co-worker who realizes the cultlike nature of Sunburst Communications; same with Logue, who had some potential as the company’s laid-back, philosophical founder. (Rudd appears in one scene at the beginning and then, unfortunately, he’s gone.)
And when the movie’s inevitable revelation comes — one you can spot from the beginning — there’s no sense of payoff.