- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 12, 2007

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group dedicated to improving the entertainment lives of families, provides reviews of the latest movies from a parenting perspective. For more reviews, click on commonsensemedia.org.

‘The Ex’

Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, brief language and a drug reference

Common Sense Media: Pause. For ages 14 and older.

*** (out of five stars)

Running time: 92 minutes

Common Sense review: Note to director Jesse Peretz: You really should think of changing the title of your comedy “The Ex.” Though Chip (played maniacally and brilliantly by Jason Bateman) figures prominently in the film as a guy who needles Tom Reilly (Zach Braff) because he’s still in love with Tom’s wife, Sofia (Amanda Peet), the title is misleading. It sets up viewers with the expectation of seeing a standoff between two romantic rivals. It partly is, but it’s not mostly about that. Not quite.

A loudmouth — or straight shooter, depending on who’s describing him — who can’t seem to hold a job, Tom agrees to uproot Sofia (who stopped practicing law to become a stay-at-home mom) and their newborn from Manhattan to Ohio. There, Tom will join Sofia’s father, Bob (Charles Grodin), in the ad business. Bob assigns Chip, a go-getting creative director who uses a wheelchair, to be Tom’s mentor. Animosity — not admiration — develops between the two.

Meanwhile, Tom and Sofia are locked in a post-birth haze, trying to find out who they are as parents, individually and as a couple. The scenes in which they struggle with their new roles are believable and surprisingly sympathetic. Still, it’s unoriginal.

On the acting front, Mr. Bateman is in fine form, exhibiting the genius blend of deadpan delivery and outright zaniness that he perfected in his critically acclaimed sitcom “Arrested Development.” Mr. Braff does good work, too. Wacky and wry, he’s as good as he gets in “Scrubs.” Also, Miss Peet, as she did in the TV drama “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” grounds the entire enterprise by being sweetly unaffected yet funny.

Mr. Grodin and Mia Farrow (as Sofia’s mother, Amelia) are, unfortunately, cut from the same oddball-parents cloth already worn to better effect in Ben Stiller’s “Meet the Parents.”

Though some of the movie’s jokes and gags work, just as many don’t. Still, it could have been worse. The bummer is knowing that it also could have been a whole lot better.

Common Sense note: Parents need to know that this rivalry comedy has both laugh-out-loud moments and cringe-worthy ones. The humor pushes the envelope with ridiculous setups that could offend some viewers. (Some reference Chip’s physical impairment.) There’s strong language and a bit of racy sexual content, and the rivalry between the two male leads gets brutal emotionally and physically.

Families can talk about how the media sets up expectations about parenting roles. Do movies and TV shows gloss over the difficulties of parenting, or are they portrayed with cliches? Also, how is Chip’s physical handicap handled in the movie? Do people have preconceived notions about those who are impaired?

Sexual content: Tom and Sofia come on to each other with varying degrees of success. Kissing, groping and some graphic description of sex acts and unusual positions. Pornographic material shows up on a laptop. Some partial nudity.

Language alert: Expletives aren’t used frequently, but when they are, they’re used pointedly.

Violence alert: Fairly brutal fistfights between Tom and Chip. One character pushes another down a flight of stairs.

Social behavior alert: Some drinking during toasts and similar events — and, once, after a character loses his job, he drinks scotch during the day.

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