Joe Dante is an American treasure. He’s made some tremendous films that are iconic pieces of pop culture. He’s one of the foremost pop-culture commenters and recontexualizers in cinema. Beloved modern filmmakers such as Edgar Wright are following in Dante’s footsteps. However, while he was a major cinematic contributor in the '80s and '90s, his presence in filmmaking these days is marginal at best. After Looney Tunes: Back in Action flopped in 2003, that was about it for him. He’s made one film since then, and it was called The Hole, and it came out in 2009, and you haven’t seen it. Now, he’s back with Burying the Ex, a movie decidedly in the vein of Dante’s best work. Of course, being in the vein of his best work doesn’t mean it is his best work.
Anton Yelchin stars as Max, a man who, naturally, works in a horror-themed store called Bloody Mary’s and who loves old-school horror and macabre. He’s dating a woman named Evelyn (Ashley Greene), who basically is a humorless, no-fun wet blanket of a girlfriend. She’s all vegan and stuff. Also, and brace yourself for this, her job is “environmentalist blogger.” Well, at least she isn’t an architect or a wedding planner. Things aren’t going terribly well for them, and matters are compounded when Max meets Olivia (Alexandra Daddario), who would be considered a manic pixie dream girl if there was anything pixie-ish about Daddario. She has a kitschy, horror-related ice-cream store called I Scream. She and Max bond over their, um, awareness of Fruit Brute? Look, pipe is being laid as it happens.
Rounding out the main quartet is Max’s half-brother Travis played by some poor man’s Adam Pally. He’s a sleazy, womanizing asshole. He’s constantly telling Max to break up with Evelyn and calling her "a bitch" and stuff. He’s awful, and while the movie doesn’t condone or support him, it doesn’t realize criticize him either, so half of what he says and does hangs in the air awkwardly. Sure, the occasional line he spouts is funny, but at what price? On the other hand, the stern school-marmishness of Evelyn is acceptable, because she is the villain of the piece. She should be unlikable, and we shouldn’t like her when, spoiler alert, she is hit by a bus, dies, and then comes back to life.
This is when the movie finally takes off. Due to an evil devil genie (don’t ask, mostly because the movie clearly doesn’t care) Max and Evelyn are to be together forever, which means Evelyn comes back as a zombie. This, naturally, complicates things for Max. He wants to get together with Olivia, his perfect match, but his pesky ex-girlfriend just won’t get out of the picture, or stop rotting. Eventually, things go particularly crazy when Evelyn’s zombie status manifests itself in the more obvious ways.
While Greene only gets to be bitchy and pouty as a living human, once she turns zombie she seems to be having a ton of fun. That sense of fun bleeds over to the viewer, and the movie soars whenever she’s on screen in her zombie state. The gags are funny, and the movie works as both a comedy and a zombie film. Daddario, on the other hand, basically just goes around being the girl of Max’s dreams. She’s fine, but little is asked of her. Frankly, little is asked of Yelchin. Only Greene and poor man’s Pally have anything to do, and only one of them has something worthwhile to do.
That being said, Dante brings his flourishes to the movie where he can. He didn’t write the script, he never does, but his sensibility is clearly in there with all the horror touches and what have you. If you have an affinity for old, kitschy, campy pop culture like he does, particularly horror, you’ll love the aesthetic here. A lot of stuff you’ve seen in Mystery Science Theater 3000 shows up here, and there are some nice moments of directing prowess on display. There’s plenty to like about this movie, but only when it comes to zombie stuff and the non-frat dude humor. On the other hand, some of the dialogue in this movie is cringingly bad, in the vein of “environmental blogger.” The movie also takes a little while to get going.
This movie is probably not for everybody. It’s really mostly for Dante fans. If you are the kind of person who watches a Dante movie waiting for the Dick Miller appearance, and then get excited when you see him, this is for you. If you like movies that show you part of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die this is for you. It won’t make anybody forget Gremlins 2, but it may make you wish Dante had worked more recently. Burying the Ex is a nice little film that could have benefited from more of Dante’s classic anarchy and less clumsy attempts to develop characters and have them meet cute over ice cream.
Burying the Ex will be available on Blu-ray exclusively at Best Buy on July 28 and on DVD on Aug 4.