Alec Toombs had his first piece of film criticism published at the tender age of 11 when he and a buddy co-wrote a review of Jurassic Park and it appeared in the Lafayette Journal & Courier. He continued writing movie reviews throughout high school and college — where he amassed a byline of 300-plus articles with the Indiana Daily Student at Indiana University. Alec was one of the original cast members of Popcorn Tribunal: A Movie Podcast. You can cash him outside, how bout dah?! at https://letterboxd.com/Toombsinator/.
In a funny game of Hollywood Boggle, screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who made their bones penning The Hangover, have teamed to co-write and co-direct Jexi — a smart-and-stupid, dick- and fart joke-infused rendition of Spike Jonze’s Her. Meanwhile, Hangover director Todd Phillips has paired with Her star Joaquin Phoenix for the controversial yet commercially viable Joker.
Jexi concerns a young man named Phil (Adam Devine), an aspiring journalist with no friends who spends the bulk of his time with his nose in his phone … as many of us are wont to do. After a chance encounter with comely bicycle-shop owner Cate (Alexandra Shipp) — and by chance encounter, I mean Phil knocks her off her bike because he’s preoccupied by his cell — he’s smitten but minus a phone due to the collision.
Phil ventures to buy a new phone from a wisecracking saleswoman (Wanda Sykes, bringing sassy back) and chooses one with an operating system named Jexi (voiced by Rose Byrne). She has more personality and purpose than Siri, Alexa and Cortana combined as she seeks to improve Phil’s life by helping him make friends (Ron Funches, Charlyne Yi) and serving as a cyber Cyrano de Bergerac in his wooing of Cate. Things become further complicated when Jexi develops feelings of her own for Phil, though. Hilarity and hijinks ensue.
Devine is an actor people seem to either like or loathe … never love. I fall into the former camp, as I’ve really enjoyed his work on Workaholics and The Righteous Gemstones (one of the best and funniest shows currently on television), and he’s likable and funny here. Shipp is an actress who brings it when actually given something to do as she has here (or in Love, Simon) as opposed to Shaft (2019) or her stints as Storm in recent X-Men flicks. Byrne has proven herself a gifted comedienne in films such as Bridesmaids and Spy. She brings these talents to the fore in Jexi through her modulated vocal performance.
One audience member complained about Jexi on her way out of the theater, bemoaning its lack of quality and truth in its advertising. If she had any knowledge of Lucas and Moore’s previous outings (in the Hangover or Bad Moms franchises) or Devine’s work, she’d know that Jexi was going to be crass and often steer toward the lowest common denominator. That it does so while wearing its heart on its sleeve is welcome. Jexi also has a good message in that it espouses the virtues of putting your phone down, trying something new, actively engaging in life and being a willing participant in living it to the fullest.
Jexi doesn’t reach the cinematic heights of Her, but that’s not its intent. There’s plenty of room for both movies to exist on the filmic landscape. I’d actually encourage folks to do a double bill beginning with Her and ramp up for Jexi with a couple of cocktails or beers.