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MOVIE REVIEW

Comedic moments are hard sell in 'The Ex'

Jason Bateman (left) and Zach Braff star in 'The Ex.' Jason Bateman (left) and Zach Braff star in "The Ex." (Demmie Todd/weinstein company)

It would have been so great if Charles Grodin, whose last big-screen appearance was 1994's "It Runs in the Family," had come out of retirement to act in a movie that was actually worthy of his considerable comedic talents.

That sure would have been great.

Instead, we have "The Ex," a romantic comedy so lacking in distinction that the 72-year-old actor might just as well have saved his comeback for another "Beethoven" sequel.

In "The Ex," Grodin lends support to a cast led by Zach Braff, Amanda Peet, and Jason Bateman. The film's determinedly uninteresting story, concocted by fledgling screenwriters David Guion and Michael Handelman, centers on a Manhattan couple, Tom (Braff) and Sofia (Peet), who relocate to Ohio when he's fired from his chef's job and she wants to quit practicing law to stay home with their newborn.

Grodin plays Sofia's father, who runs a new- age advertising agency that hires the underachieving Tom as a "creative" in training. Mia Farrow plays Sofia's mother, who comes in handy for wacky dinner-table conversation. Casting agents get points for reuniting these two veteran actors who once shared a bit of memorable screen time in "Rosemary's Baby," but if you think marquee-named parents are enough to save mediocre comedies, you haven't seen "Meet the Fockers."

Though Grodin and Farrow do their best, and this script is not without its chuckles, director Jesse Peretz ("The Chateau," "First Love, Last Rites") definitely had better material to work with when he was playing bass for the Lemonheads. If Guion and Handelman couldn't be cutting edge, they could have at least had the sense to resist stale references to "The Karate Kid."

The single most entertaining thing in "The Ex" is the ex himself, Bateman as Chip, a wheelchair-using ad man who's out to derail Tom's career and put the moves on Sofia, a former flame. Chip is like the bitter evil twin of the character Bateman played so hilariously on "Arrested Development." His sly, dry delivery has a sneaky way of finding comedy that isn't in the lines.

Braff and Peet have a harder time. He just looks goofy for most of this outing, probably because the comedy isn't over-the-top enough to vault him into "Scrubs" territory. She's ever-adorable, but slowed down to a crawl by dialogue that rarely rises to snappy, let alone witty.

More enjoyable are the handful of minutes we get to spend with Amy Adams (scary funny as a zealous earth mother), Amy Poehler (the role doesn't matter; she's always brilliant), and memorable newcomer Lucian Maisel as a boy who swallows hamburgers whole.

The next time Grodin attempts a comeback, it would be so great if he avoids movies where he might be upstaged by a sandwich stunt.

Janice Page can be reached at jpage@globe.com. For more on movies, go to boston.com/ae/ movies/blog.

'Related'

The Ex

Directed by: Jesse Peretz

Written by: David Guion and Michael Handelman

Starring: Zach Braff, Amanda Peet, Jason Bateman, Charles Grodin, Mia Farrow

At: Boston Common, Harvard Square, Embassy Cinema, suburbs

Running time: 89 minutes

Rated: PG-13 (sexual content, brief language, a drug reference)

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