Last of the Monster Kids

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Monday, March 21, 2016

Director Report Card: Ivan Reitman (2006)

14. My Super Ex-Girlfriend

The mediocre box office performance of “Evolution” did not destroy Ivan Reitman’s career, even if it arguably should have. The director apparently did not learn many lessons from that film, as his next project was also a high concept special effects comedy. At least “My Super Ex-Girlfriend” wasn’t a blatant rip-off of “Ghostbusters.” From former-“Simpsons” writer and first time screenwriter Don Payne, “My Super Ex-Girlfriend” did marginally better at the box office than Reitman’s previous movie. Quality wise, the two movies suffer from many of the same problems. Both star bored actors, feature lazy and easy jokes, and generate far too few laughs.

New York City is protected by a superheroine named G-Girl, whose powers of flight, super strength, super durability, and laser vision keep the citizens safe. Matt, meanwhile, is a single guy who works for an architecture design firm. A co-worker he obviously has a crush on has a boyfriend, causing Matt to pursue Jeanie instead. Jeanie is eccentric but attractive and seems pretty into him. She, however, has a secret: Jeanie is G-Girl. Though she may be a superhero, Jeanie is also mentally disturbed and emotionally abusive. Matt learns this the hard way when he breaks up with her and G-Girl makes his life a living hell.

In 2006, the modern age of superhero movies was in its early stages. For context, this is the same year “Superman Returns” and “X-Men: The Last Stand” came out. Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and Daredevil had yet to be rebooted while Batman was only on his second film series. The Marvel Cinematic Universe was but a glint in Avi Arad’s eyes. Many of the troupes and formulas we now associate with the superhero genre were only just beginning to collect. So “My Super Ex-Girlfriend” isn’t truly a parody of superhero movies, because that genre was still young. Instead of ramping up the absurdity, the way previous superhero comedies like “Mystery Men” or “The Specials” did, “My Super Ex-Girlfriends” trades in some very dumb comedy clichés.

Dumb comedy clichés which are topped with a dollop of casual sexism. Instead of skewering superhero comics, “My Super Ex-Girlfriend” is a bro-tastic screed that boils down to “Bitches be crazy!” The male protagonists are introduced eyeing women on the subway, reducing each to a sex object. Later in the gym, the sidekick gawks shamelessly at an attractive female. In a bar, he outlines his strategy, of dating a girl until you can have sex with her a few times and then dumping her. (The movie ends with the sidekick successfully bedding the woman he’s been crudely hitting on.) If this character was presented as a boorish asshole, that would be one thing. The writer of clearly agrees with his characters’ assessment. After Matt has sex with G-Girl, she begins to act in extremely disturbing ways. Their sex is painful for him, destroying his bed. She stalks him at work. When Matt makes innocent gestures towards another woman, she freaks out and accuses him of cheating on her. All of this is before the two separate and Jeanie begins to actively abuse Matt, which we’re suppose to find hilarious. In other words, the politics of “My Super Ex-Girlfriend” are reductive at best and disgusting at worst.

Not helping matters is Luke Wilson’s main character. The script frames Matt as an everyman, a generally relaxed nice guy who is agreeable and kind. Except, in truth, he’s really not. After first asking Jeanie out, she says “No.” He keeps asking, which is rude. He does not reject his friend’s gross, meat-headed advice, sometimes even taking it. His playful banter with his cute co-worker involves pulling his shirt up, which is at the very least inappropriate. While Jeanie’s treatment is abusive and psychotic, his response – helping her archenemy in a scheme to de-power her – isn’t much better. Luke Wilson spends the entire movie in various stages of exasperation, huffing with his mouth half-open.

Uma Thurman is a fine actress who has ghastly taste in material. When paired with talented directors like Quentin Tarantino, Ted Demme, or Lars Van Tier, she can give phenomenal performances. When seemingly left to her own devices, she stars in “Batman & Robin,” “Motherhood,” and the version of “The Avengers” with Sean Connery and giant teddy bears. As Jeanie/G-Girl, Thurman does not give a thoughtful or subdued performances. Instead, she screams for the rafters. For what it’s worth, Uma commits fully to the thin material. She beams, growls, throws tantrum, and fumes. It’s not good acting yet you can’t say she doesn’t go for it. Thurman’s total commitment to the script, weak as it is, at least makes it clear that some passion was put into this project.

Anna Farris is another fine actress that is too rarely given an oppretunity to properly show off her abilities. Look no further than "May," for proof of that. Instead, Faris has had to work with what she’s given. Namely, a line of dire comedies such as the “Scary Movies” franchise, “Waiting…,” “Just Friends,” “The Hot Chick,” “The House Bunny,” and her current gig on the sitcom “Mom.” In “My Super Ex-Girlfriend,” Faris plays Hannah, the girl that Matt is obviously going to end up with. Faris brings the same bubbly charm to the part that she always has. The part is very thin, leaving Hannah to fall into Matt’s bed for little reason. Yet Faris gives it her best and that counts for something.

The film’s supporting parts are filled out with other broad performers. Eddie Izzard – another veteran of “The Avengers” that nobody likes! – plays Professor Bedlum, G-Girl’s archenemy. Bedlum is no Tony P. but Izzard does what he can. He gets a few laughs just by deploying some well timed sarcasm. Unfortunately, the character gets a really gross subplot. He was Jeanie’s best friend in high school, alienated from her after she gained superpowers, and has been stalking her ever since. At the end, the two get married. Ew. Wanda Sykes plays Matt’s boss, who gets stuck with an awful running gag about sexual harassment. Rain Wilson plays Matt’s best friend, Vaughn, the one who dispenses all that cringe worthy advice. Wilson can be funny but he gets the worst part in this movie, which only emphasizes his natural oafishness and greasiness.

Jokes in “My Super Ex-Girlfriend” are weak. Despite the PG-13 rating, the movie plays out like a sleazy sex comedy. There are two sequences built around cowgirl sex gone wrong, which the film seems to find hilarious. The super-sex jokes aren’t done. After revealing her secret identity, Thurman bangs Wilson while flying over the city. The entire joke is that he’s terrified and the sequence goes on for five minutes. An especially obnoxious scene has a rouge nuclear missile heading towards Manhattan. Because Jeanie is annoyed with Matt, she petulantly waits until the last minute to intervene. After tossing his car into orbit, G-Girl burns “DICK” onto his forehead. While at an important meeting, she zips in and stripes him nude with her super-speed. (Thankfully, the film narrowly avoids the dead tired “misspeaking in a foreign language” bit.) If you can overlook that a lot of this is abuse – you know, hilarious – it’s still lame, witless gags we’ve seen a hundred times before.

For that matter, “My Super Ex-Girlfriend” has one really great sight gag. After catching Matt in bed with Hannah, G-Girl appears outside the bedroom window. In her hand is a great white shark, which she tosses into the building. While the CGI is pretty soft, that’s a likably absurd concept. The image of the shark awkwardly rampaging through the apartment got a giggle out of me. The marketers of the film recognized this as the movie’s sole good idea, as the scene appeared in all the trailers. Aside from that, it’s hard to find funny bits. Izzard keeps an asteroid inside his fridge, next to a ham. After gaining her ability, Jeanie’s bust line increases, a funny reference to the most common superpower. Aside from that? I’ve got nothing.

Reitman successfully fused special effects and comedy in “Ghostbusters” and less successfully did the same in “Evolution.” “My Super Ex-Girlfriend” with its 30 million dollar budget – small by superhero standards – can’t pull off many impressive effects. G-Girl mostly spins through the air at supersonic speeds, Martian Manhunter style, reduced to an indistinct, CGI blob. Her super-breath abilities are deployed several time, presumably because it’s cheaper than flying. Professor Bedlum does not threaten the city, as his vendetta is entirely personal. The climax has Anna Faris’ character also gaining superhuman abilities, leading to a superpower cat fight. There’s some smashing and trashing but nothing too diverting. Weirdly, the film rarely uses the effects in the name of comedy, the two awkwardly co-existing.

While going through Reitman’s career, the only directorial trademark I’ve really noticed – aside from half-assed screenplays – is his use of pop music. “My Super Ex-Girlfriend” features the most pop songs Reitman has utilized in a while. The film’s theme song, the painfully entitled “No Sleep 2Nite” by Molly McQuinn, has an alright beat and contributes some energy to two sequences. Another scene utilizes a Bootsy Collins-sung cover of Steve Miller’s “The Joker,” which is memorable. The most regrettable musical moments uses “She Hate Me” by Puddle of Mudd, a band most of you had probably forgotten about. Not only is the song obnoxious, it’s also way too on the nose for the scene. Teddy Castellucci’s score is forgettable and leans too hard on goofy melodies.

“My Super Ex-Girlfriend” is not as bad as “Evolution.” It’s simply nearly as bad. The film has about five or six funny moments, which towers over “Evolution’s” one or two. However, neither film has many amusing ideas. Both suffer from relying on middle-of-the-road jokes and gags. The script isn’t much better but the film does have a committed if misguided Uma Thurman and mildly amusing bits from Anna Faris and Eddie Izzard. This is not enough to overcome the gross sexism or the lazy sense of humor. [Grade: D+]

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