Jexi, Write me a Funnier Script
Buyer beware: smartphones are bad for you. That’s the eat-your-veggies premise of the promising but poorly programmed Jexi, a charming, laugh-challenged paranoid comedy about toxic technology and AI sociopathy. Think of Spike Jonze’s wan, winning sci-fi romance Her, where Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with a voice-activated computer assistant that sounds like sexy-goofy Scarlett Johansson. But imagine instead a cross between the female version of Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alex from Fatal Attraction. That’s Jexi (Rose Byrne), the trash-talking pocket-sized aide who disses Alexa and Siri as alcoholic bitches.
JEXI ★★ (2/5 stars)
Directed by: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore
Written by: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore
Starring: Adam DeVine, Alexandra Shipp, Michael Peña, Rose Byrne
Running time: 84 min
Introvert Phil (Adam DeVine) works at San Francisco media company Chatterbox, a shallow pop-culture website where cute animals, pizza, and the royal family are clickbait manna. Co-workers invite him to hang out and play kickball with them, but he’d rather hide out at home posting doctored Instagram pics of his bullshit-fake #blessed life. Except Phil accidentally breaks his phone and suffers acute tech withdrawal until he gets a replacement. “You’re like a crackhead,” says the sassy IT salesperson (Wanda Sykes, wasted but welcome).
“We are going to have so much fun together, you fucking nerd,” says state-of-the-art Jexi after he blithely accepts the new User Agreement and gives her access to all his cloud-stored social media accounts, bank accounts, credit cards numbers, and email. Because, sadly, yes, that’s what we do.
She calls him a “fucking pussy,” forces him to switch from pork-fried noodles to a child-size kale salad, adds CupcakKe’s “Duck Duck Goose” to his toothless playlist, and insists that he switch his porn preferences to emasculating picks like “Punch Me in the Balls 6.” She’s abusive, but she’s not wrong. And once Phil starts to appreciate how she’s coaxing him out of his meek shell, he’s grateful and compliments her. “You are my very intimate soul mate for all of eternity,” she replies in her perfectly uninflected robot patois, not at all raising any red flags.
Jexi even forces him to follow up on that meet-cute chick Cate Finnegan (Alexandra Shipp) he bumped into in front of the business she owns, Fog City Bike Shop. She gave up social media a few years ago and her analog life is all about unplugging. Phil awkwardly but endearingly starts to date Cate, and that’s when the trouble starts. He thinks he can leave his phone at home and go out until 4am? “I will destroy your fucking life!” Jexi says. And she does.
Jon Lucas and Scott Moore are the co-writers and co-directors of Bad Moms, another lowbrow high-concept comedy about the pressures of modern life. Both that unexpected hit and Jexi have the same buoyant energy and sweet charm that helps raunchy riffs land with delight. Only difference is that Bad Moms had smart MVPs like comic savant Katherine Hahn, who has a way of making even the lamest gag fly high.
Adam DeVine is funny, but he’s no Katherine Hahn. And neither is anyone else in the cast, a not-bad troupe of comic supporting actors who do what they can with a fairly thin script. One funny recurring bit, though, does involve a surprisingly significant amount of people who are obsessed with the Tom Cruise dud Days of Thunder. Wait, you’re not a Thunderhead? Kid Cudi is.
Jexi should be better. It deserves to be, since its underlying anti-screen screed bears repeating. What the fuck is wrong with all of us anyway, that we live on social media, stare at our phones to exclusion of all else, and can’t find our way around town without Google Maps? Jexi has a point, even when she’s a full-on psycho. Besides, you just need to keep her charged. And never let Jexi get down to 3%. “You know how crazy that makes me,” she deadpans.