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My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006) Print E-mail
Friday, 21 July 2006
Superhero movies have gone through a couple of phases; the first was inaugurated by “Superman” in 1978, followed by Tim Burton’s “Batman.” In the wake came a few lame comedies, like “Meteor Man,” and much later a few more, like “Mystery Men.” The last few years have brought an upsurge in comic book movies, usually made on a gigantic scale, like “Hulk,” “Batman Begins,” “X-Men 3” and “Superman Returns.” So naturally along come some more superhero comedies—a burst of straight entries is invariably followed by comic variations.

But one of the weaknesses of “My Super Ex-Girlfriend” is that it backs just a bit too far away from superhero stuff. It’s not that the movie needs more action; it has very little, but it’s not an action movie. It’s that we don’t know what world we’re looking at—is it our world with the addition of a single superhero, G-Girl (Uma Thurman)? (Powers: flight, super hearing, heat ray eyes, invulnerability and, of course, super-strength.) No other heroes are mentioned; while everyone is grateful when G-Girl saves people, nobody seems surprised by her abilities. Then there’s her arch-nemesis, Professor Bedlam (Eddie Izzard). Everyone knows who he is, everyone—including himself—regards him as a super-villain. And yet we never hear of anything super-bad that he’s done, other than to occasionally try to kill G-Girl.

Whenever we see a movie, we need to know the parameters; if it’s set in a standard “real” world, that’s fine—but this world isn’t real precisely because of the presence of the super-heroine of the title. Granted, the story doesn’t need to play out answers to such questions, but a few lines that just SUGGESTED answers would have been welcome. But anyway….

We very soon are introduced to the flying G-Girl, who whizzes through the skies of New
York causing aerial distortions in her wake. But Matt Saunders (Luke Wilson) has other problems. He’s still trying to get over breaking up with his last girlfriend, and can’t quite summon up the courage to ask Hannah (Anna Faris), who works in the same office, out on a date. She likes him, but she’s also going with an egocentric male model. His buddy Vaughn (Rainn Wilson), a horn dog who strikes out with every woman he approaches, may not be the best person to ask for advice, but Matt has no one else.

At least not until as he approaches subway passenger Jenny Johnson (Uma Thurman)—and is interrupted by a thief who grabs her purse and runs, pursued by Matt. He makes the guy drop the purse, but unwisely shouts a few challenges, and the guy comes back with a pole, intent on whacking Matt. To evade the purse snatcher, Matt jumps into a Dumpster—then comes out to find Jenny waiting. She’s now interested in Matt, who doesn’t notice the purse snatcher hanging by his shirt high overhead.
Jenny’s a little giddy about dating, assuring Matt right away she’s good at sex, or at least thinks she is, or something (giggle). She has a habit of occasionally disappearing, but otherwise she’s very interested in Matt, and he is in her, especially when they have sex for the first time and her super-powered thrusts break the bed. Vaughn says she’s too needy, dump her.

Matt is abducted by thugs working for Professor Bedlam (who has neat little robot pigeons doing his spying), who warns him to keep away from Jenny, and has his thugs hang Matt from the Statue of Liberty’s torch just to emphasize his point. G-Girl shows up to rescue him, but Matt still doesn’t tumble to the idea that she’s also Jenny. (Clark Kent-like, she wears glasses in her civilian identity.)

Just as his interest is on the verge of shifting to Hannah, Jenny reveals her super-powered self to Matt, making him swear he’d rather have a chainsaw up his butt than tell anyone her secret. But she’s still neurotically jealous, and when Matt tries to dump her, all hell in the form of a superwoman scorned, breaks loose.

Another difficulty with “My Super Ex-Girlfriend” is that it takes more than half the movie to reach the point described by the title. Coming into the theater, everyone in the audience knows that (a) there’s a guy who has (b) a super ex-girlfriend. But director Ivan Reitman has to painstakingly establish G-Girl’s powers and take us through most of the relationship of Matt and Jenny before the actual story starts. We even are told how G-Girl was a high school chum of Professor Bedlam when he was still Barry Edward Lambert, how he saw her get her powers from a downed meteor, how they soon drifted apart.

Which means that most of what we expect from the title is crammed into about the last third of the film, including that flung great white shark (a mighty small one) so prominent in the trailers. The whole Professor Bedlam side of the story also has to be dealt with, as does Matt’s relationship with Hannah. The result is a movie that’s burdened with a plot it didn’t really need—or at least didn’t need this much of one. Though Izzard is acceptable as Bedlam, despite not being colorful (bring on The Joker), he’s just a plot entanglement here.

This is the first produced script by Don Payne, long one of the major writers and producers on “The Simpsons.” An avowed comic book geek, he wrote the movie on spec, and, evidently to his surprise, sold it. Reitman, NOT a comic book fan, removed much of the comic book stuff that Payne had worked into the script—probably damaging the movie as a result.

“My Super Ex-Girlfriend” is amusing all the way through, though not as witty as it should have been. There are few quotable lines, few memorable sequences (apart from that flung shark); even G-Girl’s rescue of Manhattan from Bedlam’s rocket takes place at great distance. Was Reitman actually afraid of a bit of spectacle? He embraced it well enough in “Ghost Busters” and “Evolution,” perhaps a bit too much so in the latter. This movie could have used it because the title and concept prompt audience expectations along these lines.

On the other hand, Uma Thurman is terrific in her semi-dual role She’s a little bit scary before Matt dumps her, and very scary afterwards—but we also sympathize with her, and don’t want anyone to harm her. All we really want is for her to calm the heck down; we never stop liking her.

It’s beginning to look like Luke Wilson is more talented, or at least more versatile, than his brother Owen. Here he has to play an ordinary shnook of a New Yorker, and does so—but also makes him a very specific ordinary shnook. However, like Izzard, he’s trapped in a role that doesn’t allow many dimensions. The movie belongs to the girls.

Including to Anna Faris. So far known for being one of the few continuing elements in the “Scary Movie” franchise, she’s rarely had the chance to exhibit much beyond her luscious, teenage-queen face and figure. But she’s also in “Lost in Translation” and “Brokeback Mountain;” her roles weren’t large, but the characters were very specific. She’s much the same here—Hannah is a routine character, but Faris brings her above the routine.

“My Super Ex-Girlfriend” is just about the movie you expect from the title; technically proficient—the special effects are seamless—and well-photographed, it’s a decent enough summer movie. It could have been somewhat more than that, but someone was intent on bringing this potentially super-powered movie down to Earth.

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