From the start of his career, Joe Dante has made a habit of making movies about movies. His debut, The Movie Orgy, stitched together scraps of other films into a multi-hour experience that toured campuses, and his 1978 breakthrough, Piranha, offered an extended riff on Jaws that worked as both a parody and a thriller in its own right. That became an unexpected comfort zone for Dante, one he returned to for the self-aware-but-terrifying werewolf movie The Howling, his contribution to Twilight Zone: The Movie, and the Gremlins films. So the thought of Dante making a movie inspired by zombies and supernatural romance, two pop-culture flavors that have proven unexpectedly enduring in recent years, sounds promising. But it doesn’t take long for the awful Burying The Ex to evaporate that promise into a cloud of smutty jokes and half-considered ideas. At one point, “I’m shaving my taint!” gets shouted as a punchline. That isn’t even the film’s nadir.
If nothing else, the film deserves credit for announcing what viewers are in for from the start. After waking up nude on the couch of his meek half-brother Max (Anton Yelchin), grotesque horndog Travis (Oliver Cooper) announces he’s just participated in his first threesome, and hits the fridge because “I always down one raw egg after busting a nut!” He’s out of luck, though, because Max’s girlfriend Evelyn (Ashley Greene) is a vegan who blogs about environmental causes. She’s also a ball-busting shrew who insults Travis’ overnight guests as she shoos everyone out the door. Apart from her active libido, which Burying The Ex regards with a bit of suspicion, the film lets her embody just about every sexist stereotype imaginable. She wants Max to abandon his dream of quitting his job at a Halloween-themed “boo-tique” to open his own horror-movie-inspired shop. She’s jealous and insulting when he pays attention to Olivia (Alexandra Daddario), the cute owner of I Scream, a monster-themed ice cream shop, who gets his pop-culture references. Max has goals Evelyn just doesn’t understand or share.
The film wants viewers to hate her for all these reasons, and Greene’s grating performance does make that easy. But Burying The Ex really wants us to hate her because, unlike Olivia, she’s far removed from the “Cool Girl” ideal laid out in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. She doesn’t, in other words, delight at playing host to Travis’ sexual escapades, or look forward to an endless future living in cluttered rooms decked with horror-movie posters. (The real reason to hate her: The way she uses “blog” to refer to a single blog post rather than the overall entity, as in “I just posted a new blog.”) Naturally, Max decides to break up with her, but before he can break the “bad” news, she’s hit by a bus and dies, only to return from the grave to hector him some more, because he promised to stay with her forever in the presence of a cursed object. As her body starts to decompose, Evelyn keeps getting in Max’s way as he tries to romance Olivia. Women, right?
Working from a script by Alan Trezza that expands on a 2008 short film Trezza wrote and directed, Burying The Ex is mostly a case of telling the same bad joke at greater length. Dante weaves in cinephile-friendly L.A. locations (The New Beverly, Hollywood Forever Cemetery) and references to old movies, but they do little to offset the charmless meanness at the heart of his film. (It’s a bad sign when a clip from Plan 9 From Outer Space prompts the thought, “I’d rather be watching that.”) Beyond that, apart from a Dick Miller cameo, there’s little in Burying The Ex to suggest it’s a Dante movie at all, given how far it’s removed from the smart, exciting films he used to make. Maybe it’s best if everyone just pretends he wasn’t involved.