It’s great to see Joe Dante’s name on a feature again. It’s a pity that the gleefully anarchic, idiosyncratically genre-mashing spirit he exhibited in his best work (the “Gremlins” pictures, “Explorers,” “Matinee”) is only fitfully in evidence in “Burying the Ex.” His heart doesn’t seem to have been in it.
The hero, of sorts, is Max (Anton Yelchin), a young guy managing a store that specializes in horror-movie memorabilia. His girlfriend Evelyn (Ashley Greene) is beautiful but controlling, pushing her environmental activism and vegan practices on him unremittingly. Her beliefs certainly clash with those of his half-brother Travis (Oliver Cooper), a horny slob who often uses Max’s apartment for his one-nighters.
Evelyn’s overbearing nature goes into overdrive when Max clumsily invites her to move in. She immediately redecorates the place without asking him. And he deplores her nasty treatment of sweet Olivia (Alexandra Daddario), the clerk at an ice-cream parlor selling flavors with campily nostalgic names Max immediately connects with. So despite their vow to be together always, he decides to break it off with Evelyn. Before he can do so, however, she’s hit by a bus and put in the ground.
Ah, but their pledge of everlasting union was overheard by one of the new items in Max’s shop—a little demon statuette that looks like the fortune-telling drugstore prop from The Twilight Zone’s “Nick of Time” episode. Thanks to the malevolent magic of that totem, a disinterred Evelyn is soon pounding on Max’s door, demanding that they take up precisely where they left off. What follows is an awkward romantic triangle between two sweet lovebirds and a decomposing corpse with anger issues, though the slovenly Travis also proves instrumental in bringing about a happy ending.
This premise has some modest potential, but at a time when zombies are so prevalent in movies and television that viewers are practically tripping over them, it would need a lot more imagination than the script by Alan Trezza—an expansion of his 2008 short—provides (as well as a larger budget) for the picture to rise above mediocrity. Dante appears to have recognized that, and though there are a few moments when he imprints his signature on the action—the most obvious being the appearance of old Roger Corman standby Dick Mille, now a Dante regular, as a grumpy cop—for the most part the direction is of the anonymous sort that any neophyte could have mustered.
The cast turns out to be a pretty bland bunch too. Yelchin is a naturally likable fellow, but his nebbishy turn here isn’t even as ingratiating as the one he gave not long ago in Stephen Sommers’ “Odd Thomas” (another barely-released genre piece). Greene screeches her way through the movie as Evelyn, though it’s a hopelessly written part, since the character is so obnoxious from the get-go that it’s impossible to imagine even a human doormat like Max getting involved with her; and Daddario, while pleasant to look at, has little do to but act bewildered as lovely Olivia. As for Cooper, his sub-bargain-basement Seth Rogen imitation would best be forgotten, however hard that is to do, given the level of irritation he causes.
On the technical side, “Burying the Ex” is equally subpar, with overly bright cinematography by Jonathan Hall that doesn’t mitigate the garishness of Frederick Waff’s production design or the cheesy quality of Connor Meechan’s visual effects and Gary J. Tunnicliffe’s make-up. One has to presume, of course, that the tackiness of the whole enterprise was part of Dante’s plan, but that merely suggests his contempt for the project—and the realization of the restraints the script and financing put upon him—rather than an aesthetic choice.
“Burying the Ex” just proves that, like Evelyn, Trezza’s idea should never have been resuscitated. And for Dante’s reputation, it would be best that the movie should itself be buried without an identifying headstone.