Showing out of competition at the Venice Film Festival, Joe Dante’s zom-com Burying the Ex (2014) is an unfunny undead comedy that in harking back to the days of the classic B-movie would be flattered to be classified as an E-movie. Max (Star Trek’s Anton Yelchin) lives with his beautiful but irritating girlfriend Evelyn (Twilight’s Ashley Greene). He works in the Bloody Mary Costume Shop while she’s a blogger on environment issues and a vegan – the villains du jour of this year’s festival following Hungry Hearts. Max’s brother Travis (Oliver Cooper) (correction half- brother, and that counts for a running gag) occasionally comes round – one of those less convincing lotharios – and gets the lion’s share of the laughs.
Max finally summons the nerve to split with Evelyn, but when she’s killed in a traffic accident some careless wishing involving a demonic genie doll (what’s wrong with a monkey’s paw) goes wrong in an altogether hellish way. Burying the Ex’s plot is slight, the action tedious and the effects are poor. The splatter doesn’t splatter enough and everything has the feel of an ineptly made Disney movie mixed with Farrelly brothers off-cuts. A relationship between Max and Olivia (Alexandra Daddario, last seen in HBO’s True Detective), a girl from an ice-cream parlour with a fondness for horror puns, is lingered over as if we’re supposed to care. At Max’s shop old videos play of horror movies starring Christopher Lee and Vincent Price, and at one point Max and Olivia go for a date to see Night of the Living Dead at the cemetery.
Dante’s inner geek is supposed to align his latest film with the greats, but there’s nothing interesting, inventive or new here to add to the zombie genre – and this is the man who brought us the wonderful Masters of Horror episode Homecoming. It isn’t witty enough to be a parody or engaging enough to stand on its own, while spying much better films in the background just makes the audience more aware of the gaping chasm between those vintage thrills and this tedious postmodern whimsy. As with Warm Bodies (2013), loud indie rock signals a knowing coolness without ever earning it, as does Max’s punchable scootering around LA. The cheapness of the film also means that we spend an inordinate amount of time in two or three interiors, including Max’s flat, the shop and the ice-cream parlour. From its tired, punning title to its nonsensical conclusion, Burying the Ex is one of those films that aims lazily at the ‘so bad it’s good’ slot, but laps itself and ends up settling for straightforward ‘bad’.
The 71st Venice Film Festival takes place from 27 August to 6 September 2014. For more coverage, follow this link.