Burying the Ex follows the tradition set by a genre hybrid like Shaun of the Dead, as both run a dude-centric coming-of-age romance through the meat grinder of zombie-film tropes. The latter merged the hallmarks of its various influences so seamlessly that one wondered why it took cinema so long to conceive of such a fusion, while the former leaves one wondering what happened to its director, Joe Dante. Several of Dante’s films, particularly The Howling, his segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie, and both Gremlins movies, are classics of genre contortion and works of inventive and affectionately vicious channel-surfing id. Which is why it’s so surprising, and dispiriting, to watch Burying the Ex as it lurches from one tone to the next, alternating awkwardly between shrill, borderline misogynistic sex farce and desperately gory, pun-rife creature feature.
The romantic portion of this romantic zomedy egregiously follows a charmless, cowardly store clerk, Max (Anton Yelchin), as he struggles to break up with his humorless environmentalist girlfriend, Evelyn (Ashley Green). Max works at a horror-movie costume store, the kind of place that’s impossible to financially maintain in the real world, while Evelyn makes a living in the one fashion that’s potentially less likely to succeed than selling glorified memorabilia: blogging about her environmental beefs. Like most rom-coms, Burying the Ex annoyingly abounds in characters who work boutique-y dream jobs that allow them to lounge while reveling in their dull discontent with the pleasure cruises they call lives, unencumbered by the petty irritations that make for basic dramatic friction. We know everything we’re going to know about Max and Evelyn within the first five minutes of the running time, as they’re aggressively stock types: the talentless brah who’s inexplicably catnip to women because he fancies himself to be “sensitive” despite all indications to the contrary, and the castigating ballbuster who fails to appreciate the former for who he is. Add two more clichés, the manic pixie dream girl who instantly shoots the hero doe eyes (Alexandra Daddario) and the chubby, hairy, horny party animal (Oliver Cooper), and you have a strong grasp of the narrative’s unsurprising course.
Dante’s nostalgic sensibility only asserts itself in the requisite, welcome Dick Miller cameo and within the protagonist’s belabored obsession with horror films and other niche bric-a-brac. Clips from The Whip and the Body, The Gore Gore Girls, Night of the Living Dead, and many others are interspersed throughout the film, and the characters have a way of throwing around old fogey-isms like “malted” in place of saying “shake.” These anachronisms stick out because the actors deliver them as precisely that (as if sounding an alien tongue), inadvertently highlighting these contrivances as speaking to an older cinephile’s poignant fantasy of how millennials might regard a pop culture ideally governed by casual knowledge of Mario Bava and soda fountains.