Yes, Jexi is a Her rip-off; a toned down, immature comedy that plays like a Spike Jonze film for dummies. Yet, there are enough solid laughs and a winning formula to give this movie a shot on cheaper formats like rental or digital streaming platforms.
Yes, the new, and I emphasize it’s a stretch to use the word “new” when describing this comedy from the team behind Bad Moms, film Jexi is a rip-off of the Spike Jonze cinematic romantic ode to big city hipsters everywhere, Her. On paper, many cinephiles will be offended by this, as if it’s an assault to the virgin waters of originality that everyone thinks filmmaking is all about (what have movie buffs and critics been watching in theaters the past 30 years, anyway?) creating films exclusively for only grad students to analyze for one’s thesis. Jexi is not Her; it’s that version’s 2.0 update, that is not appealing to society’s lowest common denominator, as a fairly well-known film critic said this past week; it’s a plain-spoken, dumb-downed, metaphor free, cliff notes version, using sophomoric comedy to push its overall message of the Instagram generation’s robotic approach to human relationships.
This is nothing new and has been done for years. Professionals may call it an “homage” instead of borrowing or even stealing. For every Dead Poets Society, you have a Mona Lisa Smile. Even George Lucas’ Star Wars was influenced by the 1959 film The Hidden Fortress. There’s nothing wrong with it, as long as you aren’t pulling a McDowell’s (everyone needs to get ready and brush up on their Coming to America references quickly for 2020). Jexi, while not perfect, does have a few solid laughs, likable leads, and enjoyable, yet flawed comedy, as long as you give yourself over to lowering expectations, which is all but a certainty since this film virtually was given zero coverage or commercial marketing.
Still, I understand the dilemma. Jexi wasn’t made for people who go to the cinema to see, you know, art. It doesn’t have a lot of gross-out humor; it has the same usual amount of musical montages that many comedies implore when trying to highlight any romantic interests. Although, we have a film here that offers an alternative to feeling a strong dramatic emotion. Is it so wrong instead to make the casual movie fan laugh for a bit to forget about their stresses and problems of everyday life for 90 minutes
Jexi is heavily weighted on the likability of its leads. Adam Devine, whose boyish-nerdy factor is in hyper-drive here. His character is a novice when it comes to not just women, but even simple friendships. The luminous Alexandria Shipp (Shaft), always a welcoming presence on the silver screens, plays the usual carefree counterpoint to Devine’s Phil. Michael Pena is so over the top here its almost out of place, even in this comic setting.
What makes this comedy mildly, and even unexpectedly, enjoyable is the voice work of Rose Byrne, who voices the virtual assistant, Jexi. Her comic delivery, while still robotic, is full of well-timed gems; they even work better when played off Devine’s reactions, that range from wildly innocent or naïve to perplexed. The script, though, clumsily handles a love triangle that is never believable, in more ways than one, yet has some surprisingly astute observations when it comes to one’s ability to mask loneliness with tricked-up social media posts.
Jon Lucas and Scott Moore wrote and directed Jexi; you loved them with their work in Bad Moms, were only fine with them in Office Christmas Party, and you really didn’t care for their work in A Bad Mom’s Christmas. This current effort is being bashed by critics (currently holding a 14% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, compared to its 70% audience grade), but the understated humor actually makes this comedy come across as a winning one. It may not have enough gross-out gags to give it long-lasting legs (or any, really) at the box office for mainstream audiences and probably would have been better suited for an original Netflix type release. Jexi, though, has more heart and soul than many give it credit for and may find a cult-like following audience on the rental and/or digital market.
M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.