I think there’s a lot to like about the idea of how people use technology in their daily lives, and how machines are becoming more sentient. A ‘how-we-live-now’ satire can be biting and immediate if it knows precisely what it wants to say, and this is a thing that has not been said a hundred times before. Spike Jonze’s Her or Michael Almereyda’s Marjorie Prime are great examples of this. On the flip side, I bring you the comedy version of Her nobody asked for, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore’s Jexi.
Phil (Adam DeVine) works at a Buzzfeed placeholder company in picturesque San Francisco, where most of the people around him are grown children that do nothing but write funny lists and stare at their phones all day. One day, he meet-cutes with bike shop owner Cate (Alexandra Shipp) after he falls and cracks his cellphone. He purchases a new cell phone that has a new AI called Jexi (voiced by Rose Byrne). Like Siri or Alexa, Jexi’s job is to make your life easier. However, this Jexi is defective. She’s foul-mouthed, crass, and downright mean, and she makes it her mission to ruin Phil’s life.
Where to begin with this one? There are so many problems. I’ll start by saying that I went into this movie, not having seen a trailer. I didn’t know what to expect. In comedies, all of the best lines tend to be spoiled by the trailer, so I thought I stood a chance at actually enjoying myself here. I knew the basic outline of the premise, and that Rose Byrne was in it, and it was made by the guys who wrote and directed the Bad Moms movies. I love Bad Moms! I even love the lesser A Bad Moms Christmas! How bad could this be?! It’s also only 84 minutes long, so even if it is terrible, it couldn’t possibly be that way for that long, right?
This is an 84-minute long film that lasts an eternity, and I will begin by pointing out that Adam DeVine is not a leading man. Not even in something this absurdly juvenile. He is incapable of anything more than a flatly delivered punchline. I like him in films like Isn’t It Romantic and Pitch Perfect, however. Maybe I just like him when he’s next to Rebel Wilson. He does the same awfully dumb stoner dudebro comedy repeatedly, and while this has worked for actors like Seth Rogen in the past, those actors have also proven there’s more to them than the caricature. There is nothing more to Adam DeVine. Any charm he may have in the film’s opening scenes is gone by the end, where he just becomes painful to watch. He also has zero chemistry with love interest Alexandra Shipp.
Let’s talk about Alexandra Shipp. She was so great last year in Love, Simon. I’m not sure how old Shipp’s character is supposed to be. She looks like she can’t be older than 20-22, but yet she’s a business owner and homeowner who goes on and on about ‘the good old days’ and what the younger people today are doing wrong. She tells him to leave his phone at home when they go out to a ‘secret’ concert (that has a venue and posters in the windows and a line outside). She tells him to just enjoy being in the moment. She’s meant to be wise beyond her years, but since she seems to have her life together in a way nobody really does at that age, it just seems confusing. After all, in Love, Simon last year, she played a high school junior. This just seems like weird casting.
We also have Michael Peña as Phil’s boss, who has one painfully unfunny rant after another. Peña is an actor who is very funny when the writing is there, but every line reading is agonizing, and there’s even a post-credits stinger involving his character. Almost as if Lucas and Moore really expected the audience to love this guy and wanted to see more of his antics on their way out the door! They didn’t.
And Rose Byrne, poor Rose Byrne. I think she’s one of the most talented actresses in Hollywood, and to be fair, this is only a voice-cast situation, but she needs a new agent. I don’t care if it took her only a few days to record all of the lines. I don’t care if she recorded all of them from her cell phone and didn’t even drive to a studio. She’s excellent and doesn’t deserve to have her name on something this terrible. The film’s few moments of levity are mainly due to Wanda Sykes, who has an extended cameo as an embittered cell phone salesperson. Sykes, at least, seems to realize this is a bad movie.
Jexi is CBS Films’ last theatrical release. Moving forward, it will be swallowed into the streaming platform CBS All Access, since the theatrical releases with the CBS brand on them have been less than successful. And I feel comfortable in saying that is the only thing anyone will remember about this movie. Jexi is a film that wants you to get off of your smartphone and enjoy life, and yet it’s the exact kind of movie I can’t wait to complain about on the internet. Jexi crashes and burns spectacularly at every possible moment and repeatedly favors shock value to real humor. It’s the feature-length equivalent of a bad SNL skit where you just end up fast-forwarding to the next one. It’s one of the worst films of the year.