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Jexi feels like a high concept Saturday Night Live sketch with a premise that doesn’t work. It doesn’t matter that the actors are trying their hardest or that a handful of jokes are clever enough. It’s all ultimately a frustrating waste of time because the central conceit is an annoying one-note failure that can’t support five minutes let alone an entire movie.
That central conceit is that the introverted and awkward main character, named Phil and played by Adam DeVine who really does try his hardest here, buys a phone that’s possessed by an AI being that coaches him on how to live his life. Think Scarlett Johansson in Spike Jonze’s far superior Her, except the titular Jexi is ill-tempered, has nothing profound to say and has no consistency to her motivations or even basic personality.
Sometimes she’s trying to help him improve his life. Sometimes she’s trying to sabotage his life, even when he’s following her advice. Most of the time she's just there to say outrageous or unexpected things. She’s basically just a manipulated plot device used to move things along, create unnecessary tension and constantly be mined for cheap laughs, even when it undermines her character or has no relation to the larger story.
She’s not the only character who is manipulated in an effort to get cheap laughs here either. Every single person (or AI being) who walks in and out of frame is a potential victim of writer/directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore. Phil has to go to a store to buy a new phone? Let’s make the saleswoman absolutely tee off on him for an uncomfortably long time for the crime of wanting to fix his broken cell phone. Phil has an old co-worker? Let’s make him cart an oxygen tank around and have him swear. That’ll be funny, right?
And Phil’s boss, oh my Jexi, Phil’s boss. Played by the delightful Michael Pena, he’s turned into the most unrealistic sketch comedy idiot I’ve ever seen. By the end, I’m not sure he has any overlapping traits with a single real human being. He’s just a caricature, which I think was on purpose. Maybe.
Honestly, full disclosure, there’s a roughly five percent chance I’m just too stupid to understand this movie. I spent a lot of mental energy during the film’s runtime trying to piece together what was going on. Not about the plot. That’s really easy to follow, even when it meanders and makes unnecessary u-turns. I’m talking about the tone, the larger message and whether this is satire, allegory, just a comedy or what. I’m writing this the morning after I saw it, and I’m still trying to piece it all together Charlie Day style.
So, basically, the larger idea is that we all spend too much time looking at our cell phones and not enough time interacting with the real world. That’s made clear through some on-the-nose visuals and just the larger plot. What I’m fuzzy about is how we’re supposed to interpret what the characters are doing. Sometimes their actions are so ludicrous and over the top, it almost seems like they’re supposed to be stand-ins for a larger message, but it doesn’t happen with enough consistency to for it to be intentionally one-note. God, this is confusing, and my head is starting to hurt again. I need to talk this out though.
Let’s take the main character, Phil. Sometimes there are efforts to make him relatable and very human. Sometimes we get to see him do really nice things for people he barely knows. He feels like a real person we could hang out with. Then other times he crashes into a woman on the street and doesn’t even ask if she’s okay because he’s so worried about his cell phone. In another scene, we see him get a new cell phone and literally paw at it, stroke it and touch it weirdly. In those moments, the movie is portraying him as an exaggerated example of how phone-obsessed we are as a society, which is fine, except it undermines the other moments in which we’re supposed to think he’s a real person. He either needs to be all one thing, like he was in an allegory and just shamelessly go way over the top, or he needs to have relatable traits.
And you could go right down the list. This inconsistency happens constantly. Sometimes he’s an everyman. Sometimes he gets so nervous he literally mispronounces his own name. Sometimes his love interest Cate (played by the talented Alexandra Shipp) is really observant and has thoughtful things to say about herself and Phil and their lives. Then another time she runs into a dude from her past, flirts really aggressively with him in front of Phil, hears him say he’s going to win her back, willingly accepts a slap on the butt from him after the comment and then is confused why it pushes Phil away. Huh?
Despite what some reviewers might tell you, everyone goes into films with their own biases. Based on our personalities and our interests, we’re apt to like certain things and dislike others. You fight it as best as you can, but it’s always going to be there to some degree. That’s why I think it’s important to point out that I am the exact target demographic for this movie. I love movies that walk the line between stupid and clever. Idiocracy, Dirty Work, I can even get down on some Joe Dirt. Sounding dumb on paper doesn’t bother me at all.
I am also a huge Adam DeVine fan. I love The Hangover, which Lucas and Moore wrote the original version of, and I will watch Bad Moms, which they wrote and directed, anytime anyone asks. I’m also, perhaps more importantly, a complete moral high ground douchebag when it comes to cell phones. I’ve only downloaded two apps on my phone (Uber and Google Maps). If I’m in my house and need to look something up on the Internet, I go get my laptop. I also very passive-aggressively roll my eyes when other people use cell phones while we’re hanging out. I’m the absolute worst and this movie should have spoken to me. That I found it annoying should be very concerning.
There is very clearly a lot of talent here. I believe in basically everyone associated with this movie, and random things happen that are clever or funny or cute. It’s not like every single second is only filled with bad ideas. Some of them could have been good or maybe are good, but it’s hard to enjoy any of them when they’re in the middle of a larger movie that just doesn’t work. Maybe it should have gone further and been unapologetically ridiculous for every second of its runtime. Maybe it should have scaled back and tried to ground everything, other than Jexi herself in reality. Maybe all involved should have realized the concept isn’t strong enough and moved on to other projects with better chances at success. I’m not sure.
All I really know is I did not like Jexi, and it’s hard for me to imagine many other people will.