Directed By Jon Lucas and Scott Moore
Starring – Adam Devine, Alexandra Shipp, Rose Byrne
The Plot – Phil (Devine) has a major dependency issue; he’s addicted to his phone. He has no friends, he has a job writing pop culture “Top 10” lists, and his love life is non-existent. But his Facebook status is about to change. When he is forced to upgrade his phone, the latest model comes with an unexpected feature…Jexi; an A.I. life coach, virtual assistant and cheerleader. With her help, Phil begins to get a real life. But as he becomes less dependent on his phone, Jexi’s artificial intelligence morphs into a tech nightmare determined to keep Phil all to herself, even if it means ruining his chances of finding success.
Rated R for strong/crude sexual content and adult language throughout, some drug use and graphic nudity
– The Setting. Over the last year, San Francisco has become arguably my favorite filming location, and with “Jexi” being the third film this year that I’ve seen to capture such a beauty, it’s clear why it is becoming the second coming of New York for film. Captured by no shortage of breathtaking wide angle lens photography, as well as an airy atmosphere internally that banks on the values of positivity and spontaneity, the Golden Gate city seduces us with its big city feel for its grounded everyday people. With each opportunity to bask in the glow of its never-ending sunshine and mountainous roads, the team of Lucas and Moore establish such a presence within this place for the film, that despite neither of them actually being from San Francisco, establishes the value of its importance to the unfolding of the story.
– Deeper meaning. Regardless if this film chose to capitalize on it fully or not, I found the self-commentary alluded to technological addiction to be one that was very moving to someone like myself, who also has difficulty stepping away from such modern day privileges. 2013’s “Her” did do it better, but there’s enough with “Jexi” that isolates and depicts it for the toxic that it can truly become in separating ourselves from human interaction and the relationships needed to grow and harvest the lifestyle that each of us yearn for. For Phil, it starts with irresponsibility on the part of his parents, for giving him this gift at such an early age. He has used it as the crutch that keeps him from ever truly fighting for the things in life that he wants, and that distancing has created barriers for technology used to bring us closer. I appreciate a film’s responsibility, especially during the peak of technology’s powers, to focus on the terrors that can come from such addictions, and even through the eyes of a comic genre rendering, still gets its lessons across for the things needed to keep us from becoming this shell of a man.
– Hilarious at times. I’m usually not a supporter of crude comedy with very little reasoning in a story that doesn’t truly require it, but the gags and punchlines for several instances of hearty laughter is exceedingly sold by the timing and commitment from Devine to get them over. Most of it is awkward humor, in how he embraces dating and friendships for the first time ever, but for my money the true brace for the film’s comedy resides in the vocal capacity of Byrne as this deconstructive tool for better or worse in Phil’s life. With only a vocal capacity, Rose emotes more disdain and discontent for this man than most can do with a majority on on-screen presence. The way she sells his ignorance not only stood as the voice of logic in a film full of illogical people, but also for the way her sarcasm molded him into feeling helpless quite often throughout this movie. Even if you take nothing else away from “Jexi”, it will give you the few necessary laughs to constantly keep you engaged with the picture, and cement the endless boundaries that comedy can explore with the desirable R-rating.
– Who are these people? No, I’m not saying that with a Jerry Seinfeld accent, but rather a desperate plea to the movie for the many disgusting and unrelatable personalities who I wanted to spend no time with. Characters in this movie are a Saturday Night Live sketch, or an overly animated commercial used to catch the attention of bored channel surfers. None of the conversations feel or sound authentic, and none of their decisions feel logical in the slightest, and it creates this unavoidable feeling of satire if “Black Mirror” was written by a stoner with zero priorities. It’s rare that characters will take me out of a movie completely, but after the initial introductions with Michael Pena’s boss-man character, or Wanda Sykes overzealous phone salesperson, I couldn’t believe anything that this screenplay was presenting to me. It basically outlines no consequences for terrible people, and in a movie where this voice from a phone is supposed to be our antagonist of sorts, this artificial intelligence is easily the most logical thinker who you will find anywhere in this movie.
– Speedy runtime. “Jexi” becomes the second movie this weekend that I abuse for its minimally acceptable runtime to barely warrant a big screen capacity. At 79 incredibly flawed minutes, the film whisks by at a marathon runner’s pace, breezing through important subplots and storytelling developments that are presented in a blink-and-you-might-miss-them mentality. The greatest example of this problem is in Jexi’s ever-changing attitude towards Phil, which could stand as a literal representation for Katy Perry’s “Hot or Cold” smash hit. So much about the theories of cause and effect are shoe-horned into the very same scenes, and they establish a sense of long-range storytelling and high stakes conflicts not residing anywhere near a film with such a short attention span. This one could’ve easily used another twenty minutes for Phil not only to confront the demons of his past with uncaring parents, but also to draw out the typical third act distancing, that comes and goes without fleshing out the loneliness of the situation.
– Television style production. It’s funny that Devine stars in this movie because much of the cinematography and handheld approach to filming it feels like an episode ripped straight from the clutches of a “Modern Family” episode. This is of course complete with unnecessary zooms on a character speaking, or editing transitions so amateur that they stitch two polarizing scenes together with prolonged audio from the previous scene to stretch over into the following one. I don’t watch a movie like “Jexi” for quality filmmaking, but the lack of technical mastery to compliment an already breezily told story made it very difficult to hold weight or even invest into the plights of these people. Nothing about it screams big screen appeal, and if I were brought in blindfolded, I could easily be convinced that this was a straight-to-streaming snoozer that could’ve been avoided from the public eye if the studio didn’t stretch its faith with this having an appeal for paying audiences.
– Redundant musical score. Pretty much the only way to alienate me when it comes to music in movies is to deliver such minimal effort to the compositions manufactured, and in this regard Christopher Lennertz and Phillip White set a new precedent for laziness in audible tonal depth. It’s not enough that the same ten seconds of musical familiarity repeat for the entirety of the movie like an 8-bit Nintendo game only capable of storing so much audible storage, but it’s also so unappealing in its jarring noise that it makes you shudder just thinking about a transition scene that will inevitably come within the next few seconds. Sure, there are a few lyrical tracks sorted throughout the film, like Kid Cudi’s “Up Up and Away”, or One Republic’s conveniently titled “Connection”, but it always comes back to a musical score so inept of transferring human emotion to its audience that it too feels like the very artificial intelligence inserted into Phil’s phone that leaves him equally annoyed.
– Sloppy editing. If you ever have trouble understanding what constitutes a terribly edited sequence, just watch this film’s first meeting between Phil and his two co-workers who eventually become his friends. It takes what should easily be these long takes of character dialogue deposit, and slices them in a way that covers the reaction of such dialogue from every angle but the bird who is temporarily sitting on the window to rest after his long journey. It’s attention deficit for scene transitions, and what’s worse of all is it’s visually so unappealing and distractive that it often kept me from committing myself to the heat of the dialogue to understand important tidbits of information that I knew would come into play later on. This continues the terribly underwhelming production that I alluded to earlier, and renders “Jexi’s” visual capacities overly-influential when playing it conventional for an everyday Rom-Com would’ve been enough to get it a passing grade.
– Hard pills to swallow. There is no shortage of this anywhere in the movie, as the film’s horrendous leaps of continuity from shot-to-shot is only eclipsed by its complete lack of logic in understanding how cellular phone hard drives actually work. For one, the terms of condition aren’t something that you read once, and never again. It’s a very long list that is always present in your phone settings, and like those settings, easy to change or alter at any point with your experience. Secondly, I wonder how this company that produces the phones has managed to survive for so long, when this A.I is destroying important aspects of people’s lives. If you can overlook this aspect, you can also believe that there’s a McDonald’s on Saturn. Thirdly, there are consequences at the end of the movie that Jexi has done to Phil that he won’t ever be able to recover from, particularly in the form of money. This is given the kind of attention that Henry Bowers received in “It Chapter Two”, because it is never mentioned again, and all is forgiven with these cute hijinks. Finally, there’s a scene where Phil plugs back in his phone after Jexi tells him that she is at 3% battery. This of course is after she has threatened his girlfriend, and made life difficult for him throughout this movie. Here’s an idea; let the battery run out. See where it goes from there. We will never know because this, in addition to a cellular conflict that never gets fully resolved, is never attempted at. Maybe for fear that it will daringly push the ambitious runtime to a heart-stopping 82 minutes. SHOCKING!!!
– Tonally incompetent. This movie is marketed as a comedy, but I feel like the events in the film point more to a psychological thriller that would otherwise elicit some impactful moments once the phone starts abusing its powers. Because there’s no urgency to the vulnerability that Phil emotes, we never find ourselves feeling truly sorry for his dire situation. Beyond this, the film could pull a twist ending where Jexi doesn’t exist in the capacity that we hear her in, but rather a ploy in Phil’s mind, after a troubled childhood that we saw in the film’s opening sequence. I’m sure it sounds stupid, but it certainly beats a movie ruining a guy’s life, and it being played off for laughs.
My Grade: 3/10 or F+