Ed. note– KRISTY should be the official first review of the Ashley Greene Stole My Man Card review, but that’s a Konopka Kill and Kill Again pick. So consider it under the umbrella. I also consider it a much better made flick than BURYING THE EX, which I still don’t believe is a Joe Dante film, even with his name in the credits.– P.F.
If a director’s movies are his children, then each film should have his DNA imprinted on it. But if it weren’t for his name in the credits, and a 30 second cameo from Dick Miller, I’d have had no idea that Joe Dante had directed BURYING THE EX. If you watched PIRANHA, GREMLINS 2 and BURYING THE EX, you likely wouldn’t know the latter shared a director with the first two. Lacking the subversive wit and glee of all his works to date, the themes that have shown up throughout his catalogue, and the overall vibe of a Joe Dante film, this flick could have been directed by anyone. I’m still in disbelief that he directed this film, and maybe that’s out of reverence for one of my favorite directors, because this flick is the worst of his career. Actually, I prefer to think one of the neighbor’s ugly kids snuck into his house and adopted the Dante name.
Straight out the gate, we’re not watching a Dante movie. After a nifty CGI credits sequence (the first sign this isn’t Dante territory), the flick introduces Max, a hipster horror fan, waking from a nightmare next to his girlfriend Evelyn. He heads into his living room to find his half brother splayed out naked on the floor with two scantily clad gals. Travis has taken it upon himself to use Max’s apartment for a threesome. He strolls around naked, raiding Max’s fridge, throwing shade on Evelyn as meek Max weakly defends her. Evelyn enters the scene, pissed off, and throws Travis out. I describe this scene to point out that Dante is operating with characters he’s never done before: millennials. Alan Trezza’s script is supposed to be hip and cool, with characters easily identifiable to a younger audience. I’m against ageism, but it likely needed a director who was around that target audience’s age range, not a guy who cut trailers on film for Roger Corman forty years ago. Trezza’s script is terrible (more on that later), but it would’ve benefited from someone who had a finger on the pulse. Baby boomer Dante seems lost directing from it.
The next few scenes establish character. Evelyn is laser focused on how she wants life to be, and at times controlling. Max is a dreamer, who loves horror films so much he wants to open his own horror memorabilia shop, even as he works in an unsuccessful one. Olivia is a fellow dreamer and an entrepreneur, with her own trippy ice cream shop. When Max and Ev go to check out the shop, Ev gets jealous of her boyfriend’s connection with Olivia and insults her. Despite all the evidence the relationship’s not working out for Max, he invites Ev to move in. When she redecorates the apartment, folding his vintage posters and turning it into an eco-friendly nightmare, Max decides it’s time to break up. As she’s crossing the street to meet him, she gets slammed by a bus. With her dying breath, she asks Max to be with her forever, and in the heat of the moment he agrees. Eventually he moves on to a fun night with Olivia, but Ev’s undying love isn’t done with Max yet, as she digs herself out of the grave, and tries to keep Max to herself.
Compounding the problem of an out of sorts director, Trezza’s script commits a cardinal sin that kills the flick: he asks me to sympathize with the wrong parties. Max is a wishy washy dreamer, who lacks the commitment to stand up to anybody. He lets his brother have a threesome in his living room, abides by the stupid way his boss makes him greet customers, and rolls over whenever Ev says or does anything. He should never have started dating someone as high maintenance as Ev to begin with, and it’s his fault he can’t get the guts to dump her. I’d love to see the Meet Cute so I could decipher how these two decided they were a great fit, because they clearly don’t belong together. Instead, I’m supposed to accept Olivia as the more attractive, and therefore right, partner for Max, because she’s a similar dreamer, if slightly more successful. But she’s loopy and thin on character. Sure, she’s beautiful, but beyond those big blue eyes and knowledge of obscure cereals and horror flicks, what does she really offer? Two dreamers without much grounding don’t often go very far (despite what the film’s ending suggests), so I’m not buying this. It doesn’t help that Anton Yelchin is doing his meek, quiet guy shtick that he does in every non- STAR TREK flick. He’s always likable onscreen, but he’s far too passive. As Olivia, the very talented Alexandra Daddario looks lost. She’s forced to spout goofy dialogue, and her take on playing a dreamer would’ve benefited from some better acting choices.
The funny thing is, Ev is clearly the antagonist, but I was on her side the whole time. She’s cruel at times, and has a worldview that is narrow, but she’s also fragile, vulnerable and apologetic for her bad behavior. She really loves Max, even if she doesn’t quite understand what’s important to him. She’s even better as a zombie, trying to adjust to being undead as she expects their relationship to carry on as it was before.
Kudos to Ashley Greene, who owns Ev. Greene makes her a multidimensional character, whereas a lesser actor might not have, and even when she’s gone full bitch evil and possessive, she’s still sensitive. She amps things up as the film reaches its conclusion, but never gets campy. I love Ashley Greene in everything I’ve seen her in, and she’s the only part of this film I enjoyed. Even with Trezza’s dialogue, which is outright garbage at times, she pulls off a respectable performance. Sure, she’s no Dee Wallace, but then again, this isn’t exactly THE HOWLING either.
No, because THE HOWLING had all the hallmark touches of Dante’s. A great job of acting from Robert Picardo, all sorts of visual in-jokes, a witty script with bite from John Sayles, great special makeup effects from Hell of Famer Rob Bottin, and an interesting score from Pino Donnagio. All things lacking in BURYING THE EX. Picardo, oddly, is nowhere to be found (though Miller shows up in a perfunctory role, which doesn’t give him much to do); the in-jokes and geek talk about horror movies fall flat and don’t register; the effects are pretty tame, in comparison with Bottin’s catalogue; and there’s very little true score, with hipster pop songs cramming the soundtrack. And while I appreciate titles such as “Dead Girls Don’t Say No,” and “No Good Way to Die,” an orchestral score at least would’ve added a little heft to this awful flick.
Look, I hate panning a flick from any director I really love, especially the uniquely talented Joe Dante. THE HOWLING is one of my six favorite horror flicks, a quirky little piece of genius directed by a guy with a particularly subversive sense of humor. But BURYING THE EX is a bad movie, and I have to call a spade a spade. Dante was nearly 70 when he made it, and he was editing those Corman trailers a decade before his three leads were born. He deserved a better script than this one, and this flick deserved a director who wasn’t so out of touch with the times. But we got what we got here, and what we got was a really bad flick with one standout performance from Greene. And that’s a crying shame.
About 10 years prior to BURYING THE EX, Joe Dante directed a Masters of Horror episode, “Homecoming.” It’s got zombies in it. It’s also got Picardo, a script that turns everything in modern politics on its ear, and a fine turn from Dante. If you’re tempted to watch BURYING THE EX, watch that instead. It’s a master on top of his game, working material he understands and crafting a fun horror experience. I only wish I could say the same for this flick, instead of doubting Joe Dante’s role even having seen his name in the credits.