It’s been five years since Ivan Reitman’s Evolution, almost a generation in the film industry. In fact, most of the potential audience for My Super Ex-Girlfriend wasn’t even alive when Reitman helped rewrite the rules for movie comedies back in the 1980s. The director reworks ideas from his biggest successes in his new project, giving My Super Ex-Girlfriend the feel of a greatest hits package at times. But despite clever writing by Simpsons veteran Don Payne, this high-concept comedy lacks the starpower to become a true blockbuster.
The opening is quick and efficient, with nerdy architect Matt Saunders (Luke Wilson) winning art gallery manager Jenny Johnson (Uma Thurman) by trying to catch a purse snatcher. Their first tentative dates reveal Jenny to be neurotically grasping and Matt next-to-spineless. It turns out that Jenny is also G-Girl, a superheroine whose exploits are often just another inconvenience for jaded New Yorkers.
Jenny makes Matt promise not to reveal her secret identity, even when her arch-enemy Professor Bedlam (Eddie Izzard) hangs him from the torch on the Statue of Liberty. But Matt soon learns that his biggest problem is Jenny’s superhuman neediness. When she discovers that he’s falling for his co-worker Hannah Lewis (Anna Faris), G-Girl responds by hurling his car into orbit.
The rest of the film details Matt’s attempts to placate Jenny and declare his love for Hannah, just like Robert Redford playing off Debra Winger and Darryl Hannah in Legal Eagles. In the meantime Bedlam concocts a scheme to destroy G-Girl once and for all, a plot device that can’t disguise the fact that My Super Ex-Girlfriend is all set-up and no pay-off. Reitman flirts with some off-color material, throws in one special effects sequence involving a shark that evokes the euphoric action in Ghostbusters, and then basically treads water until the contrived happy ending.
Uma Thurman doesn’t hold back, either as Jenny or G-Girl, injecting a sexy energy into a film that can sometimes seem stodgy. Supporting players like Izzard and Rainn Wilson (from NBC’s The Office) make the most of their underwritten parts. Izzard’s explanation of the difference between “kill” and “neutralize” is a textbook example of shaping material to fit a personal style. But Wilson, whose changing hair color suggests that the film underwent a lot of reshoots, proves that in a project like this, being affable isn’t enough. He and Faris, a fixture in the Scary Movie franchise, can’t generate enough excitement to keep the film afloat. Their romance, the least interesting aspect of the story, is more insipid than wholesome.
The real question My Super Ex-Girlfriend poses is how much of an audience remains for Reitman’s glossy, brand-name style of comedy. The funniest parts of the script, like its characters’ casual acceptance of a comic book reality, are so subdued that they can be missed entirely. Reitman plays up the story’s sex, but seems reluctant to go as far as The Wedding Crashers or The 40-Year-Old Virgin. With films like Meatballs and Stripes, Reitman was a major factor in the coarsening of American comedies. Perhaps it’s fittingly ironic that the genre seems to have passed him by.
Cast and credits
Cast: Uma Thurman, Luke Wilson, Anna Faris, Eddie Izzard, Rainn Wilson, Wanda Sykes, Margaret Ann Florence, Stelio Savante, Mike Iorio, Mark Consuelos.
Credits: Directed by Ivan Reitman. Written by Don Payne. Produced by Gavin Polone, Arnon Milchan. Executive producer: Bill Carraro. Director of photography: Don Burgess. Production designer: Jane Musky. Edited by Sheldon Kahn, Wendy Green Bricmont. Costume designer: Laura Jean Shannon. Music by Teddy Castellucci. Music supervisor: Patrick Houlihan. Stunt coordinator: George Aguilar. Visual effects supervisor: Erik Nash. Special visual effects and digital animation by Digital Domain. A Recency Enterprises presentation of a New Regency/Pariah production.
Twentieth Century Fox/Color/2.35/Dolby Digital, DTS & SDDS/96 Mins./Rated PG-13