All ABCs for 'Ex' Nerdball

    These days, the characters Zach Braff plays seem to alternate between two core personalities: troubled and nerdy for dramas or blithe and nerdy for comedies. This year, it’s comedy’s turn.

    All Photos Courtesy of Lion’s Gate

    Tom Reilley (Braff), fresh off involuntary unemployment and just in time for the arrival of a new baby, humbly accepts a job at his father-in-law’s company. Meanwhile, wife Sofia (Amanda Peet) stays home with the kid. Tom can stomach them all – quirky colleagues, cheerfully condescending in-laws and even the horrifying game of “”Yes”” dodgeball – that is, until he realizes his new “”mentor”” is the emasculating Chip Sanders (Jason Bateman), Sofia’s high-school flame, whose lusty torch for Tom’s wife still burns with a manic energy.

    Tom’s geeky persona is predictably reminiscent of Braff’s “”Scrubs”” character; however, this proves to be a double-edged sword. His moony personality is entertaining enough when confined to a world of campy medical nonsense – but strip him of the show’s surreal eccentricity and what’s left is a nerd so frustratingly wimpy that we can’t help but smirk complacently alongside Chip as he methodically unravels Tom’s life.

    It doesn’t help that Braff usually appears as lost as his character. Confronted by a cast of notable comics – including Fred Armisen and Amy Poehler of “”Saturday Night Live”” – Braff becomes a wide-eyed kid who accidentally sat down at the adult’s table during an inside joke. His sole comedic contribution is an admirable ability to ram myriad body parts into solid, immovable objects – a brilliant tactic, if most of us hadn’t outgrown it with Wile E. Coyote.

    But despite occasionally resorting to overbearing attempts at humor (let’s face it, throwing a handicapped person down a flight of stairs is just hi-larious), the film manages to sneak in some poignant moments – namely, those between Sofia and her newborn. Though her husband believes that she has it easy because she gets to “”hang here with Oliver all day,”” Sofia, who’s on maternity leave and misses her job, awkwardly cares for her son while plagued by boredom and a presumptuous neighbor’s parenthood classes. In one touching scene, a frazzled Sophia drives home while trying to quiet her fussy son in the backseat – then, after nearly colliding with another car, she is left rattled and stricken.

    The movie’s main redeeming quality is Bateman, who revels in his role as the ultimate douchebag. Whether he’s tricking Tom into a game of wheelchair basketball or passionately reliving his cheerleading routines with Sofia, Chip’s psychotic passive-aggressiveness combines with Bateman’s inherently likeable face and dorky, preppy look to mold a character that is both disturbing and priceless. In fact, Chip is such an unapologetic villain that we grow more excited about his comeuppance than the resolution of Tom’s whiny life.

    Sadly, in the end, the jokes aren’t sharp enough and the climax is too much of a self-serving cliche to take “”The Ex”” anywhere past forgettable. Though meant to target Braff- and Bateman-lovers, this two-for-one item – like most deals in life – is never as good as its separate entities. Fans of Bateman who want to see his amusing dark side are better off waiting for the DVD, while Braff groupies are better off renting any season of “”Scrubs.””

    Zach Braff Speak’n’Say

    From the small screen to the big screen and back again, from acting to writing to directing, Zach Braff has done all there is to do in Hollywood except cater VIP bashes. With the upcoming opening of his new movie, “”The Ex,”” the actor sits down and discusses the most important and controversial issues facing America since Team Aniston vs. Team Angelina. This is Zach Braff on:

    Faking it: It’s hard to do a comedy, you know. After doing “”Scrubs”” for six years, I can tell you there’s been weeks where I was, like, in a horrible mood and had to go do that. Which makes it really hard, you know, because – I mean, I don’t think anyone could tell, but – it’s always challenging to try and be silly and wacky when you’re not feeling it.

    Taking ridicule like a man: Mostly it’s [Jason Bateman] making fun of me and laughing at my expense. But he’s so funny that I just laugh along. He’s one of those people that, like – he can be, like, making fun of you and you’re just cracking up because he’s just so friggin’ funny. … It’s like I become just like the little giggling schoolgirl. Like, I don’t even, like, try and come up with funny stuff.

    Life outside of film: Hanging out with my friends and hanging out with my dog and reading and watching movies. And I’m a photographer – amateur photographer. I take pictures. If I wasn’t an actor, I imagine – I don’t know what I’d do. Maybe [I’d be] an architect, or maybe a photographer.

    The art of not killing infants: I had to learn how to hold the baby because I didn’t know about the whole neck thing. I mean, someone had to explain to me the fact that their necks aren’t strong. But I figured it out. By the end I was damn good at holding the baby.

    Advice to future Spielbergs: You know, I just tell people go make short films and really put time into them. Don’t just make crap. You know, make something – make a short short, you know, I say keep them short – under 10 minutes. And really come up with something that you best feel represents the kind of films you want to make and really represents you. And it becomes sort of your business card.

    Crap avoidance: Don’t just make crap.

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