Some Chicks Just Won’t Take A Hint
Obviously, it’s never really too early to start watching scary movies in anticipation of Halloween, and if they’re funny as well, how can you lose? Along that line of reasoning, Joe Dante’s zombie romcom Burying the Ex seemed like – pardon the expression – a no-brainer. But while it’s a perfectly agreeable little film, it doesn’t seem to be very much else; far from flaming the passions of my love of horror-comedy, this one seems to be rather doggedly going through the motions. Not unlike the hero’s supernaturally clingy ex, this film seems desperate for us to be in love with it, but just doesn’t have a spark of real life in it to latch onto.
It’s the story of horror movie enthusiast Max (Anton Yelchin, Only Lovers Left Alive) and his fanatically ecosensitive girlfriend Evelyn (Ashley Greene, from all of those Twilight movies), who have recently decided to move in together. Evelyn is a sex-crazed hottie, but she’s also controlling and manipulative, and Max eventually realizes that they have nothing in common. She’s not interested in supporting his dream of owning his own horror-themed shop, she hates his womanizing half-brother Travis (Oliver Cooper), and any time another girl says even two words to Max, she wildly overreacts.
When Max meets his dream girl, Olivia (Alexandra Daddario, True Detective), who owns her own horror-themed ice cream shop (I Scream. The name of the shop is I Scream), sparks begin to fly and Max comes to the conclusion that, uncomfortable as the idea makes him, it’s time to end things with Evelyn. But on the day he’s decided to break things off, Evelyn is hit by a bus and killed.
Unfortunately, Max had promised that he and Evelyn would be together forever, and even more unfortunately, he made the promise over a piece of magical bric-a-brac that came from somewhere, we never find out where, and anyway it’s destroyed as soon as its usefulness to the story is concluded, because it’s that kind of movie. And so Evelyn claws her way back from the grave, horny as hell, super-strong, decaying, and ready to reclaim her guy.
Even though we’ve seen better from Joe Dante – much better, like Gremlins, for instance, or Innerspace – the movie isn’t altogether unwatchable, and from time to time even displays flashes of savage wit reminiscent of The ‘Burbs and even some of the playfully gory gallows humor of Piranha. But it’s also lifeless enough to make you wish that Dante had opted to fully commit to a deadpan genre parody like Piranha or played it a bit more straight to produce a genuine horror creature feature along the lines of The Howling, or anything, really, that would have kept the movie from shuffling along like the cinema of the dead. Even his recent Goosebumps-style offering, The Hole, mostly satisfied as a kind of a family-friendly horror film that evoked nostalgic memories of Amazing Stories and the 80’s Twilight Zone, but with Burying the Ex, it may be time to accept that Joe Dante’s best era as a director is already behind him.
There are some major problems with this film, which, by all rights, ought to be a lot funnier than it actually is. There are plenty of interesting angles that get set up but never fully explored – that some relationships just seem to drag on after the romance has died, the idea of a smothering partner wanting to suck the life out of you (in this case, literally!), and the fact that most, if not all, of Max’s problems could have been avoided if he’d just worked up the nerve to break up with Evelyn in the first place. As it stands, it’s not scary enough to be effective horror, it’s not funny enough to be effective comedy, it’s not sweet enough to be an effective romance… it’s not even crass or offensive enough to be a bro-centric ‘ditch the bitch’ picture. It’s shallow and emotionally uninvolving and, for a zom-rom-com, it’s infuriatingly devoid of any satisfying romance or zombie shocks.
But it’s exactly the kind of thing you’d watch if it came on TV and you didn’t have anything else to do, or if you just happen to have an affinity for zombie movies, or perhaps for Alexandra Daddario, who is as cute as she is inexplicably bland in a role that ought to be quirky and charming. I’m not singling her out, by the way – none of the characters seem to reach their full potential, even as stereotypes. Anton Yelchin is a wonderful actor with inherent nerd charm, but even he seems to be phoning this performance in. Oliver Cooper as Travis is supposed to be a lovable pig, but he’s neither particularly loveable nor particularly committed to his character’s piggishness; he’s not really even offensive enough to make you laugh. Evelyn is supposed to be just the worst, but honestly, she really isn’t that bad; she and Max really aren’t a good fit, but hers needs to be the sort of character that makes you root for the bus, and she just isn’t that level of awful. How bad could she really be if she (grudgingly) puts up with Travis bringing over an endless parade of hot chicks (who inexplicably find him sexually irresistible) for sex fests on their living room couch? Even Zombie Evelyn isn’t that much of a pill, really, until she spontaneously develops a craving for brains after watching a gory film – I guess she just sort of realized in that moment that she was supposed to have a craving for brains, not nookie. She certainly isn’t the kind of bitch-from-the-grave she needs to be to make the movie work. Not even the movie’s soundtrack lives up to its potential – they talk a lot about Johnny Ramone in the movie, but what you get is… The Kobanes?
One can’t help but think that, like Evelyn, it would have been better for everyone if this movie had just stayed buried.
And it is a shame, because a Joe Dante in his prime would have taken Alan Trezza’s painfully thin script and spun some gold out of it. What happened to the guy who gave us the completely bonkers self-parodying Looney Tunes horror-comedy Gremlins 2? This film needed that guy, the subversive maniac, behind the camera… Not the guy who just goes through the motions and doesn’t have the guts to make us chuckle, cry, or cringe. It’s just not enough to cram in cute little horror references and pepper the film with clips from classic B-movies – but even those hover in the background, just out of focus, their presence implied but never really explored. And it doesn’t help that this material was already done much, much more effectively – and hilariously – in the 2014 Aubrey Plaza comedy Life After Beth, which also starred Dane DeHaan, Molly Shannon, and John C. Reilly. On the other hand, it’s a film that may find a following on the strength of Dante’s reputation, but I wonder how much currency that reputation will carry after a few more apathetic films like this.
The movie did have one surprise for me, though: a cameo from the great B-movie staple Dick Miller. Which was especially surprising to me, since I could have sworn that he died a few years back. Like, it was in the papers, wasn’t it?
Nothing’s weirder than seeing someone you thought was dead turn up in a zombie movie.