Perhaps the saddest thing about watching new offerings from directors that had their heyday in the 1980s is the reminder just how far we’re removed those days we are and how difficult it can be to adapt to modern sensibilities. A half decade removed from his last flick, the kid-friendly and underseen The Hole, Joe Dante returns behind the camera, and if one strains to listen, they can hear him let out a resigned sigh as he dives into material far beneath him in the form of Alan Trezza’s punchless script for Burying the Ex. While Dante delivers moments of irreverent comedy that made the Gremlins series so enjoyable, he also carries over that periods gender stereotypes and sexual mores that feel out of place and off putting for modern times. At one point in the film a character Val Lewton as taking “what could have been B-Movie exploitation and turned it into arthouse cinema” and what can’t help but feel it’s Dante pleading with the audience to not judge him by this abomination of a film, but by the standards of excellence he set decades before.
Fright Night’s Anton Yelchin plays Max, a horror obsessed, soft-spoken “nice guy” meant to stroke the egos of a male audience that feel entitled to and frustrated by their inability to land the prototypical “hot” girlfriend. While his seeming lack of a backbone and inability to have an honest and direct conversation about the problems in his relationship might be meant to suggest he just doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, it acts as cover for a coward who is all too happy to bemoan his relationship woes with his womanizing half-brother Travis while stringing along an unhappy relationship. The other half of the equation is Evelyn (Ashley Greene), and the film spares no detail in heaping unflattering character traits on her by the bucketful. Evelyn is a militant vegan and environmentalist to the degree that she “forces” Max to sell his car and ride a scooter and adapt the same meat and dairy free lifestyle. Her post coitus pillow talk consists of berating Max for not changing his light bulbs to energy saving CFLs. She insists on letting everyone know she blogs for a living during every conversation. Upon moving in with him, she redecorates the apartment to be a more eco-friendly domicile, a process that involves removing and trashing Max’s beloved imported horror film poster collection.
Evelyn’s biggest sin is going all insta-jealous bitch on Olivia (Alexandra Daddario), the manic pixie dream girl who runs a punk rock homemade ice cream shop that shares Max’s obsessive love for all things horror. Evelyn’s possessiveness becomes the final straw, but before Max can break up with her, she gets plowed over by a bus, putting what should be the final nail in the coffin in the unhappy couple’s doomed relationship. When a grieving Max has a chance encounter with Olivia outside a Val Lewton double feature, Daddario becomes the second breathtakingly gorgeous woman to throw herself at Max. It’s at this exact moment that the wacky hijinx in the form of zombie Evelyn rear their ugly head as the ex-girlfriend turns up on his doorstep to rekindle the relationship.
Burying the Ex offers little to no reason to recommend it. Both the main female characters exist solely to offer one note, paper thin interpretations of a girlfriend, with Daddario’s hipster checklist of partner wish fulfillment offsetting Greene’s shrewish, overbearing Evelyn. The ugliest character in the film comes in the person of Travis (Oliver Cooper), a repulsive misogynist (if you take a drink every time he refers to women as “broads” you’ll be sauced by Act II) who winds up as the “hero” of the film. We meet Travis as his sweaty and bloated carcass lies naked between a pair of Maxim models, sprawled out on Max’s living room floor. Of course, Evelyn is introduced as the villain in the situation for not wanting to turn the sofa into a breeding ground for undiscovered bacteria and for kicking Travis and the girls out.
There’s going to be a group that loves Burying the Ex. It’s a film that plays right in to the mindset of MRA groups and pock marked loners that made #gamergate a real thing. They’ll see Travis as a loud mouth hero that tells it like it is and see a reflection of themselves. Burying the Ex biggest sin is it’s just plain boring. The jokes fall flat, the characters are paper thin and the digital effects look dated by a decade. Aside from being filling certain male fantasies that reassure them “they can have it all,” there’s no audience for this. Dante deserves better, and I suggest rather than watch a lion in his winter years, you pop in one of his many older, classic films instead.