The Ex

If you want a relationship comedy that feels like this year's stuff, outlandish but sort of sweet, wait 'til "Knocked Up" opens June 1. If you want a relationship comedy that feels like last year's stuff, doesn't go far enough in any direction and is made watchable only by an overqualified ensemble, there's "The Ex."

Jesse Peretz directs, and note how he treats the script (by David Guion and Michael Handelman) in its broadest slapstick elements. Not too well, that's how. When faced with a bit in which someone hauls someone else out of a wheelchair to prove he's faking a disability and whomp-whomp-whomp, down the stairs he goes, as shot and edited the gag is a literal clunker. You can't approach such delicacies willy-nilly and for maximum noise; the "funny" part goes away. For comparison's sake, most episodes of "Scrubs" pull off all kinds of weird, pain-inflicting physical comedy just so, quickly, almost subliminally. If only more of the Zach Braff TV series had rubbed off on the latest Zach Braff film vehicle!

Here, Braff plays a New York chef in training, whose upscale attorney wife (Amanda Peet) has quit her job to have a kid. The day she goes into labor, her husband gets canned. Paul Rudd plays the despicable restaurateur who fires him. When an actor as droll as Rudd (he's in "Knocked Up," too, supporting his "40 Year-Old Virgin" co-star Seth Rogen) can't get two laughs in a row, well, it's sad.

The title refers to Peet's old high school pal (Jason Bateman) who works with Peet's dad (Charles Grodin) at a touchy-feely Ohio advertising firm. Relocating from New York, Braff and Peet and newborn try to make a go of it, with advertising newbie Braff under the tutelage of the Bateman character. Paralyzed from the waist down, Braff's nemesis is 100 percent conniving weasel from the waist up and wants Peet for himself. Peet's character, meanwhile, endures the intrusions of the local mommy brigade and essentially fades into the woodwork.

Honing his self-pitying vocal intonations Bateman, lately of "Arrested Development," does what he can with the most comically rewarding role. Grodin can make me smile just by grinning that toothy, hyper-ingratiating smile of his. Peet's easy company, though along with "well, it's a paycheck" surely the actress must be thinking she deserves more, and better.

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