Movie Review: 'Jexi' Is Bad but What Were We Expecting?
Those darn kids and their phones!
I should have known better than to try and think positive thoughts about Jexi. I should have approached it with the disdain with which the trailer had instilled within me. I should have been skeptical of my recent less than averse feelings for Adam Devine. Instead, I tried to be positive. I tried hard to go in and laugh. It was not worth such effort.
Jexi stars Adam Devine as Phil, the filmmakers' horrendous conception of modern, entitled male youth. Phil is mousy and weird in that way that men in movies are and somehow still attractive to women well beyond them in maturity and attractiveness. Phil works at a company that produces listicles, those top 10 lists you see linked to celebrity photos, spammed at the bottom of many websites.
Phil's dream is to be promoted to the listicle companies' nebulous 'journalism' division. I guess it is fair to assume that 'Chatterbox' is some sort of Vox-esque multimedia company but as overseen by Michael Pena as Phil's doofy boss, it appears far more like the cynical conception of a bunch of bitter boomers bemoaning the future.
Phil is obsessed with his phone because whenever his parents argued when he was young, they handed him a phone to play with. Rather than address the deep seated psychological implications of such dark mental associations, the movie quickly falls back on Phil as a stunted man-child who never realized it was unhealthy to obsess over his phone.
It is via his phone, or nearly losing the beloved extension of his very being, that Phil meets Cate (Alexandra Shipp), a person superior to him in every way. Nevertheless, despite his being more concerned for dropping his phone than he is for having run into her, male screenwriters require that characters such as Cate be more forgiving than your average parent who forgives the person who murders their child.
Cate, at the very least, doesn't go for Phil right away, he's far too comically awkward to be able to fully interact with her. Instead, he's immediately struck by someone else and does lose his beloved phone. A trip to the store, and an encounter with the only funny person in this movie, the brilliant Wanda Sykes, leads to Phil purchasing Jexi, the latest advancement in phone technology.
Jexi, voiced by Rose Byrne, in her second role this year as a form of AI after the Netflix movie I Am Mother, is an intuitive AI along the lines of Siri or Alexa. The difference here however, is that via a byzantine user agreement that Phil refuses to read, Jexi has the capability and the willingness to take over her owner's entire life.
It starts off harmless enough with Jexi calling out Phil for his food choices and ordering him a salad instead of his usual favorite delivery food. Then, things progress to Phil's job where Jexi insults Phil's boss in the midst of a company wide meeting and gets him busted down to answering user comments on Listicles, the lowest form of job in the company.
Eventually however, Jexi begins to actually help. She gets Phil to go out with his co-workers and make friends and Jexi even pushes Phil to pursue Cate. But, just when things start going well, Jexi goes from Siri helper to Hal 2000 like nightmare and Phil finds he cannot escape from his phone and the ever growing obsession of his A.I operating system.
Jexi aims to be a modern comedy about the myriad ways in which people, specifically millennial's, are too obsessed with their phones. The film has all of the bad modern tropes of obnoxious people missing out on real human moments because they are obsessed with seeing things via their phone. The film has the subtlety of a hammer to the forehead with repeated scenes of mobs of people walking while staring at phones.
Is this really what passes for observation these days? Those darn kids and their phones? Is their anyone who isn't fully aware of the insidious nature of our constant connection to our social media feeds and the high cost of our inability to disconnect? This point has been well made by far smarter and more insightful movies than Jexi.
Then again, if we dismiss a movie as inessential we would run out of modern movies very quickly. Jexi is certainly inessential but that doesn't make it bad or the bane of existence that I have perhaps made it out to be. I'd be lying if I didn't admit to finding some of what happens in Jexi to be funny if not insightful. It's not memorably hilarious but Wanda Sykes gets some big laughs, more on her in a moment, and Alexandra Shipp has a winning quality in a role beneath her talent.
And, again, in fairness, Adam Devine is perhaps not to my taste. I don't think he is untalented. I liked him a little in Isn't it Romantic, in a role where he is not forced to sell every joke with his highly physical, manic, style of comedy. Here however, Devine falls back on what I find to be his least attractive traits, sweaty, desperate, physicality and the awkward humor of being deeply embarrassed for someone.
Devine is not helped by a deeply derivative script that offers nothing new to the long held conversation about our obsession with modern technology. The level of discourse in Jexi is barely above the 'point at thing and laugh' variety mixed with a little of that PG-13 style raunchiness. And then there are the thoroughly modern romantic comedy fails.
For starters, Alexandra Shipp is desperately out of the league of Devine's phone obsessed doofus. I'm not talking about Devine's attractiveness, I have met plenty of women who ship Devine's unique charm, I'm speaking of how the characters are introduced as having completely different lives, interests and levels of maturity.
Where Shipp's Cate is introduced as a forward thinking adult with her own business and no phone, Devine is your very average, off the shelf iteration of the modern man-child. She's outdoorsy and outgoing and he rarely puts his phone down long enough to not get hit by passing vehicles. The simple construction of the characters provides no reason for either of them to connect with the other and they appear to do so solely because of her attractiveness and benevolence.
The best performance in Jexi isn't even a performance per se, it's just Wanda Sykes riffing as a character very much like her well-honed stand up persona. Sykes' character is the film's cop out toward self-awareness. Sykes is used to deflect the idea that the movie isn't aware of how well worn this comic ground is. Sykes's Denise exists to state the most obvious criticisms of Devine's Phil and his obsession with his phone,
The filmmakers, again, mistake what Sykes gives them as insight. Sykes is just riffing in her inimitable style at the expense of a very easy target, a phone obsessed millennial. Sykes is funny because she is inherently funny, her manner, her confidence, her impeccable delivery is what is funny not what she is commanded by a screenwriter to say which are merely nods toward being 'self-aware.'
The other, lesser fail of Jexi is this growing trend of jokes that surround pretending a movie from the past is an unassailable classic that everyone loves and agrees on. In Jexi, the characters get Days of Thunder out of a random movie generator and proceed to act as if liking Days of Thunder was something that we as a culture have all agreed upon.
The problem here is twofold, one, the fact that a billion other comedies have done this before, and two, the movie is very bad at communicating whether the characters genuinely like Days of Thunder or are being snarky. Are we in on the joke or is the joke on us? Do they legitimately enjoy Days of Thunder or were they randomly assigned a movie no one cares about and that in itself is the gag? I have no idea what the makers of Jexi were going for with repeated references to Days of Thunder other than it might have been funny when Ted referred to Flash as a classic but the same joke is now quite tired.
Jexi isn't a very good movie. It has a few moments that are genuinely funny (I adore Wanda Sykes) and it is not an actively hateful movie, so it has that going for it. But, I don't recommend you spend your valuable time or resources on it. Jexi is mostly inoffensive and well intention-ed, it's just not a very good movie.