Monday, January 11, 2010

One A Week Reviews #2: The Ex

Another in my series on One-A-Week reviews, where I'll be trying to aim for quality viewing instead of quantity viewing. By the way, the "quality" there means I'll be trying to pay better attention. My taste in films is still crap.

Why would you possibly wanna watch The Ex?

Well, this is actually a re-watch. I'd seen this one years ago, renting the video for some late night when I knew I wasn't gonna get much sleep. I remembered liking it, but not much about it, so when I saw it on Netflix I knew I had to give it another spin. The Ex has a pretty decent pedigree. A novel by John Lutz, adapted by the brilliant Larry Cohen? Directed by Mark Lester, who gave us Class of 1984, Class of 1999, and Firestarter? A cast of Yancy Butler, chewing the scenery like taffy, along with the dour Nick Mancuso and bland Suzy Amis? What's not to love?

Okay, it hasn't aged well. With a "flat" visual style, heavy-handed score, and general Lifetime TV movie aesthetic, it smacks of it's late 90's roots.

Buter is the completely whack-a-doo Diedre, who's obviously completely obsessed with ex-husband David. In the first scene, she's stalking his new wife and child. In the second, she's showing up at his work site to act disingenuously ignorant of his current situation.

Yancy Butler is just fantastic here. Her raspy voice, direct gaze, and general demeanor of snarl is very effective for the character. Subtlety isn't necessary in a story like this. It's obvious from their first scene together that Diedre was an obsessed mess and still is, while David was very happy to be rid of her. In fact, she's got obsessed flying off of her like sparks. Since David coldly walks away, Diedre handles rejection like anyone would. She uses the name "Molly" (David's new wife) and picks up a married man in the bar, takes him to a hotel room, screws him and drowns him in the bathtub. After, while brushing her hair, she dead-pans into the mirror "You've been a very bad girl today, Molly."

Let me reiterate. Subtlety is not the issue here. When she gets back home, she puts in a video of herself engaging in masochistic sex with David while she calls to taunt and provoke her ex-shrink. Obviously a bad shrink, as she's pretty easy to taunt with a little lesbian teasing and Diedre making a point to share she's not medicating properly...

The next big scene has Diedre showing up at the gym to befriend the real Molly under the name of her shrink, Lillian. Even while playing "endearing" she seems balls-out crazy. Molly, of course, wants to bring her kid in to see Lillian professionally. Diedre also finds out she was so honkin' crazy that David didn't even tell Molly about his first marriage... if you met someone like Diedre in real life, and they had the reaction "Lillian" had, you'd never send your kid to them.

Later on, just running into Diedre, causes David to lose it and start chocking Molly during sex. It's completely obvious that David and Diedre were an excellent match, though he's better at bottling it up. Molly turns to "Lillian" to talk at the gym, and Diedre gets up in the middle of the conversation, breaks into Molly's locker to boldly steal her keys, and then returns all a-smile. You gotta love a character like that. You'll find yourself wishing Butler was playing a little MORE crazy. She's getting in with the wife, with the kid, laying groundwork. Less than a half-hour in you wonder why she's bothering. She should be stomping through their family like the Police Station scene in The Terminator. First time she hangs out with the son, she considers throwing him into a paddle-boat's wheel.

Larry Cohen is the king of the B-movie trash thriller. His experience and efficiency shows in every scene. The glee of the manipulative Diedre revealing she drowned her best friend for empathy and a husband, then tells the kid to go lie to his mom so they can play more is just juicy.
He's also willing to play fair with David's juggling "not playing along" with "how much can I get away with not telling the wife."

Any-whoooo, the total over-the-top whack-a-doo continues as Diedre provokes David and plays Molly and escalates the lunacy. Thankfully it divests of the con-job halfway through and turns into a battle of wills. Diedre is knocking off someone for their apartment (makes sense to me with some buildings) and Dr. Lillian, who really deserves it for being dumb enough to encounter Diedre without backup. Meanwhile, David and Molly start circling the wagons.

It's awful, unbelievable, and beyond exaggerated. I loved it. It's all empty calories and total brain-candy fluff. The story keeps escalating as stupid people do stupid things and Diedre engineers snare traps everyone should see coming from a mile away. Things escalate in this lower-rent but considerably juicier version of Fatal Attraction until Diedre is heading out full-tilt to destroy one incredibly uninteresting family. She even goes so far as to mock their kid with a "wah, wah, wah!" Why Diedre wastes so much time messing with everyone's minds is understandable considering what she wants is attention, but as she rolls through their lives like a maniacal, murderous tank, you'll mostly be wishing there was an all-Diedre sequel. All Butler going loony all the time. Worth a watch for anyone who likes a trashy "thriller."

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