Burying the Ex (2015)
89 min., rated R.
Save for 2009's fun, mischievous '90s-style suburban horror-adventure "The Hole" and his last theatrically released effort being 2003's underrated "Looney Tunes: Back in Action," director Joe Dante doesn't regularly make movies anymore. Even if the genre showman's latest isn't quite the reanimation of the kind of effects-laden horror comedy he honed so well—1978's "Piranha," 1981's "The Howling," 1984's "Gremlins" and 1990's "Gremlins 2: The New Batch," and 1993's "Matinee"—"Burying the Ex" is a cheerfully morbid if inconsequential lark. It has all the elements to be macabre fun, with plenty of horror-movie in-jokes to pass around and a cameo from character actor Dick Miller, but if this really is Joe Dante in 2015, little of his gleefully demented personality bleeds through. Slim and one-note, the film has more of a situation than a story to tell, which wouldn't be such a deal-breaker if screenwriter Alan Trezza's script (based on his 15-minute 2008 short) were sharper and less obvious.
Horror-loving Max (Anton Yelchin) regrets moving in with controlling, go-green girlfriend Evelyn (Ashley Greene). She doesn't respect his love for movie monsters, forces him to eat a vegan diet and be more environmentally conscious, but they have great sex. When he tries to dump her in a dog park, Evelyn gets hit by a truck on her way over to him and dies. Max actually mourns over his ex's death for a while, until things start to look up when he runs into Olivia (Alexandra Daddario), a pretty, down-to-earth ice-cream shop owner who shares his love for horror. Thanks to the evil magic of a Satan genie in the L.A. costume and horror-themed novelty store where Max works, Evelyn claws her way out of her grave and, despite her body decomposing, she's friskier than ever and wants to zombify him so they can be together forever. Love doesn't conquer all in this instance.
A well-cast Anton Yelchin and the warm, charismatic Alexandra Daddario (2015's "San Andreas") are a cute couple and excel together. Though Daddario's Olivia is "the other woman," she is the right one, but the undead Evelyn just keeps getting in the way. Max and Evelyn clearly weren't meant to be when she was alive and they are even less of a match when she's a zombie. If Olivia is an idealized dream girl, Evelyn is clearly the shrewish villain of the piece before she even starts craving brains and being infested with flies. The script tries for one attempt at humanity with Evelyn, who only has Max to call her family, but aside from that afterthought of a detail, she is a shrill, castrating and completely insufferable punchline. Ashley Greene (2014's "Wish I Was Here") is certainly game, playing the thankless role as poorly written as it is and having fun as one of the living dead. As the so-called comic relief, Oliver Cooper (2012's "Project X") is just obnoxious as Max's sign-twirling half-brother Travis, who uses his and Evelyn's apartment to bang chicks.
"Burying the Ex" certainly feels familiar to the ex-girlfriend-back-from-the-dead premise of 2014's "Life After Beth" and somewhat in tone to 2009's "Jennifer's Body," but this is a cartoonier beast that feels a bit stale by comparison. The film gets off to a dodgier start, dialogue too on the nose and the treatment of Evelyn carrying an air of casual misogyny and sexism, however, the tone is so tongue-in-cheek that it's easy enough to forgive. Also, the Satan genie is treated as a means to an end. Genre fans will still find a lot to like here. Max works at "Bloody Mary's Bootique Horror Shop," where he is required to greet customers with "Ghoul Morning" and say, "Go to Hell," when they leave. Max and Olivia share their love for "Cat People" and later go on a date to see "Night of the Living Dead" at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. There are the uncomfortably amusing gross-out gags (Evelyn vomits up embalming fluid and puts her body into some new, bone-cracking positions with yoga) and some mild, ticky-tacky gore. Dante also makes a fleetingly nice use of Phosphorescent's moving "Song for Zula" on the soundtrack. Akin to a zombified puppy that just wants to be loved, "Burying the Ex" is too likable to be shut down as a complete misfire, but as it comes from a genre expert such as Joe Dante, it sure is weak sauce.
Grade: C +