Whenever I flip through my internal thesaurus, alliteration is sometimes inevitable: Soporific or sophomoric? Wretched or rancid? In the case of Jexi, we can take all those descriptives, put ’em in a burlap bag, and heave ’em all at the theater screen. Honestly, in the horserace for Worst Movie of 2019, I figured Serenity had already secured a place in the winner’s circle. Suddenly, here in the final turn, Jexi comes pounding forward like a mighty Seattle Slew.
The plot is as dippy as they come: Phil (Adam DeVine) is a goobery schlub who spends every minute of every day glued to his smartphone. He works for a Buzzfeed knockoff, churning out lists about cats and getting screamed at by his numbnuts boss (Michael Peña). One day, Phil zombie-walks right into Cate (Alexandra Shipp), an attractive girl who runs a bike shop. She tumbles off her bike; his phone is cracked beyond repair. The two engage in one of the most awkward, maddening Meet Cutes in recent history, before Phil totters away to get a new phone.
Phil unboxes his new cell-beast and introduces himself to Jexi (voice of Rose Byrne), its new AI assistant. Turns out, Jexi has has a voice like Siri, but a mouth like Cardi B: She disses everything about his dweebish personality and vows to fix all of his flaws. Soon, Phil finds himself in a toxic relationship with Jexi, as she begins to demolish his personal and professional life.
Jexi had potential, buried underneath all the layers of badness. Along this journey down the River Styx, you’ll catch frustrating bits of truth: Smartphones have grown clever enough to snoop through our very lives, giving many of us the feeling that we’re being stalked. Jexi takes that fear to the next level, with a phone loving its owner enough to kill for him. This could’ve been a funny movie, but that’s like saying the ’62 Mets could’ve had a good baseball team…if they’d only had a completely different roster.
What we’re left with is a study in stilted gibberish: Characters speak and act with the clumsiness of aliens trying to pretend like they didn’t just beam down to the planet. Cate seems somehow charmed by Phil’s creepy, ham-fisted attempts to pick her up, while Phil jabbers and fumbles over every bit of dialogue until you want to soak the screen with diesel and set it ablaze. Peña struts like a peacock and lobs insults at his staff with such blinding regularity that it’d be difficult to imagine him with any employees in the real world. It should tell you something that the friggin’ robot voice seems like most human presence in the whole film.
It’s always frustrating to watch talented people languish, and Jexi is no exception. DeVine can be very funny, and he works extremely hard, much in the same manner as a drowning man thrashing against an undertow. Shipp, who you might know as Storm in the newer X-Men movies, has real star power. When it comes to chemistry, she and DeVine have zippo, but I don’t blame them for that. The Rat Pack, the Brat Pack, and the Frat Pack combined couldn’t raise this shuddering shipwreck from the ocean floor.
All in all, I think Serenity is worse than Jexi. Serenity has an ineptitude that makes it a piece of tragic art, much like the bullet-ridden Bonnie and Clyde car that sits in the Smithsonian. Its disaster is total. That said, Jexi does have the single worst scene of the year. I’m going to spoil it, so if you have some masochistic reason for seeing this movie, look away: Adam DeVine has sex with his phone. All the way to the finish. That should give you some idea of what you’re dealing with here. Jexi is terrible. Pedantic and putrefied? Throw those words in too, while we’re at it.
84 min. R.