Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Burying the Ex: Zombie Codependency from Joe Dante

It is hard for a proud geek like Max to stick with his relationship with an intense environmental activist like Evelyn. At least when she dies tragically young you would expect her to do the green thing and decompose into compost. Unfortunately, she will rise from her grave, reanimated by a nasty case of supernatural codependency. Of all people, Max ought to be reasonably well prepared for a relationship with a zombie, but she is just as jealous and overbearing as she was in life. This leads to problems in Joe Dante’s Burying the Ex (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Max works in a costume shop, chafing under his boss’s rule. He dreams of opening his own shop, but Ashley is not one to encourage such foolishness. When he agrees to cohabitate with her, Max finally realizes what an insufferable piece of work she is. He is even ready to break-up with her, but a city bus does the dirty work for him—permanently, or so he thinks. Thanks to a satanic idol and Evelyn’s intense commitment, she claws her way out of the ground, expecting to pick up where they left off.

Of course, this is awkward for Max. After all, she is kind of pale-looking and just generally creepy to be around. To be fair, he moped over her for a long time, but he only just started pursuing a new, healthier relationship with Olivia, a fellow geek malt shop owner. Right, Evelyn probably won’t like that.

This is a Joe Dante film, which means Dick Miller is in the house. Happily, he is still doing his thing and stealing his scene when he pops up late in the third act as an incredibly unhelpful policeman. Of course, we know he will be money. Essentially, Anton Yelchin falls back the same dweebish nice guy shtick he used in films like Odd Thomas, 5 to 7, and Broken Horses (listed in declining order of entertainment value), but it works relatively well in the context of Ex. In fact, he develops some believably appealing cult-movie loving chemistry with Alexandra Daddario. Dead or alive, a little of Twilight’s Ashely Greene’s Evelyn goes on long way, but she certainly helps the audience feel for poor Max.

Compared to Dante’s best work, Ex looks somewhat restrained. However, his many nods to geek culture (including Fruit Brute cereal, Hollywood Forever cemetery screenings, a Val Lewton double feature at the New Bev, and generous helpings of Ed Wood’s Plan 9) are a lot of fun. Although not nearly as richly executed, Ex could be a nice lite beer chaser to Dante’s true classic Matinee.

Like a seasoned pro, Dante keeps everything moving along quite snappily. There are some clever gross-out gags down the stretch and the design team assembled plenty of fan-friendly props and bric-a-brac. There is no shortage of zombie comedies these days, but this one has some heart and Dick Miller. Recommended for fans of Dante, Miller, and zombies (which ought to be just about everyone, right?), Burying the Ex opens this Friday (6/19) in New York, at the AMC Empire.