When I hear the name Joe Dante in connection to any film, a smile won’t be far behind. The man is a genuine genre god, and everything he’s ever directed, even the not so good stuff, has something good in it. He’s been doing this since the mid 70’s and while his name doesn’t elicit the praise that it used to, his films are always something to look forward to in my book. What would the werewolf genre be without The Howling (1981)? Who directed the best of the JAWS ripoffs with Pirahna (1978)? Who made cute & cuddly creatures turn to evil & nasty harbingers of death/destruction in Gremlins (1984)? Add in films like the underrated Explorers (1985), the vastly underrated Gremlins 2; The New Batch (1990), Small Soldiers (1998) and Looney Tunes: Back In Action (2003) to his bio and you’ll recognize how important Dante has been to the genre. So it was with a genuine sense of excitement that I sat down to watch his latest film, Burying The Ex, a horror/comedy that has a few good moments in it, but ultimately feels too shopworn and stale to make the grade.
Max (Anton Yeltchin) is a good natured young man who works at a horror memorabilia/costume shop and is in an unhappy relationship with Evelyn (Ashley Greene), who is a bossy, jealous, know it all who, despite her good looks, wears out her welcome really quickly. But she genuinely loves Max, the sex is good, and when the two of them movie in together it seems like Max is willing to let his dismays over the relationship fall away. But she’s a staunch vegan, a crazed environmentalist & more than just a little jealous. So when they go out for a malted, she gets extremely upset over the discussion Max has with Olivia (Alexandra Daddario), the owner of the malt shop. add to that, Evelyn’s redecorating of their apartment included destroying the vintage posters Max has assiduously collected over the years. When you toss in the fact that there’s a genuine chemistry between Max & Olivia – it becomes plainly evident to Max that he has to break up with Evelyn before it’s too late.
Sadly, Evelyn has no intention of ever letting Max go, and thanks to a small totem that gets delivered to Max’s shop – she gets her wish. After getting hit by a bus (& dying), it seems like Evelyn is out of Max’s life for good – giving him the freedom to pursue Olivia without fear of repercussion (after a few months of mourning of course). But Evelyn told Max earlier, that they’ll be “together forever” and she meant it. And after a few months in the grave, she digs herself out, makes her way back home to Max, and continues her life as if nothing happened to her. But she is dead, and as she slowly deteriorates, spewing projectile embalming fluid and rotting away (flies start to gather around her head), Max has to figure out a way to get her back into the grave for good if he wants to have a chance at a relationship with Olivia.
Now if this sounds vaguely familiar to last year’s Life After Beth to you, you wouldn’t be too far off the mark. Hell, Yeltchin even looks a bit like Life After Beth star Dane DeHaan. But Burying The Ex succeeds where the other film failed in that the characters are genuinely likable here. The cast is small, but eager and attractive and they all seem to be having a grand old time making this film. Toss in Oliver Cooper as Travis, Max’ horndog half brother who is always on the hunt for cheap meaningless sex, and you have a nice little cast doing its damnedest to entertain you. Sadly, the script (by Alan Trezza) doesn’t win any points for creativity or originality. Its all been done before, and while Dante’s deft directorial flourishes make this film an enjoyable one – overall it isn’t something you’re gonna remember after it’s over.
There’s a small dollop of gore, but it’s definitely just a dollop. The laughs aren’t that great, but there are a few decent chuckles waiting for you here. I had a small problem with the character of Travis in that he’s not exactly the best looking guy I’ve ever seen, but he’s got a way with some extremely good looking women. So while some of you might find that unbelievable (I sure did…), ultimately I think it’s pretty cool to have a schlubby looking guy get himself some foxy ladies in a movie. Dante can direct films like this in his sleep, but as you watch this one, you’ll see that this wasn’t just a job for him. Like I said earlier, all of his films have something worthwhile in them, and Burying The Ex is no exception.
But in the end, despite everyone’s best intentions, Burying The Ex isn’t very special. It isn’t a bad film – just an ordinary one. One that you’ve probably seen more than a few times already in the past. Dante’s films haven’t been getting much of a release as of late. His last film, The Hole (2009), undeservedly sat on the shelf for a few years before it got a quick token release. It seems like this one is getting that same treatment, and for a director of Dante’s stature that just isn’t fair. Anton Yeltchin seems to be in the same boat as Dante is as well. If you add this to his failed star turns in Odd Thomas last year, and the Fright Night remake of 2011, it seems like he hasn’t been able to make the leap to leading man status, despite all of the chances he’s been given. Then again, he does play Chekov in the new Star Trek films, so he’s still being seen on the big screen in blockbuster films. Daddario is currently doing her thing in San Andreas, and Greene has four films in post production right now, so this film won’t hurt any of their careers. But I do wish that Dante could get another crack at a big budget Summer blockbuster. Just so he can show all of the whippersnappers that take $200 million dollar budgets and produce 2 1/2 hour snoozefests (I’m talking to you Michael Bay) how it’s done.
Burying The Ex – 2.5 out of 5 shrouds.