First off, let me address the elephant in the room: Yes, Jexi is a film that is in theaters as we speak. It’s not a typo! It’s a real movie! I know, I’m just as surprised as you are. And in that movie, “Jexi” is the name of an artificial intelligence/virtual assistant, the next evolution of Siri/Alexa/Cortana. So the title does make sense in context, providing that context isn’t the list of movies playing at your local cineplex, where it looks like… a typo. Honestly, the first hurdle to watching Jexi is getting over its nothing-burger of a name. And once you have, you’re left with an Adam Devine comedy written and directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (Bad Moms) that takes all of its inspiration from Spike Jonze’s Her. What if, Jexi seems to ask, instead of watching a sensitive exploration of loneliness and human connection, you just munched some popcorn through a profanity-laden after school special about how phone addiction is real and very bad? That’s it. That’s the movie.
And the problem with the movie is that it constantly undercuts its own message with one simple, unescapable detail: Jexi the A.I. is the best and funniest thing on screen. How do you build an argument that life is better without phones when the phone is literally the most interesting character in the movie? The movie ITSELF isn’t better without the freakin’ phone! Anytime Jexi wasn’t there harassing Devine’s milquetoast Phil, I was itching for her to come back. In twisting the familiar parable of technology obsession into a comedy, the film shot itself in the foot.
Fortunately for all of us, Jexi is on screen much of the time, and she genuinely is a delight. Voiced by Rose Byrne, Phil’s new operating system takes her job of making his life better to hilarious extremes. Phil is a friendless, awkward schlub biding his time at a Buzzfeed knockoff making viral lists about cats that look like Ryan Gosling, when what he really wants to do is be a serious journalist. He’s got no friends, and worse, he doesn’t even seem to be aware of what he’s missing. In order to get him out of his shell, Jexi insults him, judges him, publicly embarrasses him, and refuses to obey him — all for his own good. She even sends an email to his boss (Michael Peña) on his behalf demanding a promotion, only for it to backfire and land Phil in the basement answering commenters. At first, it seems like Jexi is making his life a living hell — until Phil realizes he’s having more fun than he’s ever had. Jexi helps him connect with the hot bicycle shop owner he’s crushing on (Alexandra Shipp) and forces him to play kickball with his coworkers (Ron Funches and Charlyne Yi). Soon, he’s forging real connections with real people, and also making a genuine friend out of Jexi — which becomes a problem. Turns out, a Jexi that’s just doing her job may be a pain in the ass, but a Jexi with an emotional investment in Phil is downright sinister. She’s got access to all of his accounts. She’s always listening. She’s got limitless reach from her cloud. She has no moral parameters. Hell, she even admits she’s defective — though she’s quick to point out that Phil “is not perfect either, motherf*cker.” This is how Siri goes from being the perfect wingman to the jealous girlfriend version of Skynet.
The story of a sad sack realizing that his online existence can’t compare to the real world is fine, but the fact that it’s another online existence that proves that to him makes it a messy message. Worse, the film takes its ridiculously charming cast and wastes them in roles that are barely even two dimensional. Even Phil’s personal growth unfurls in giant leaps that don’t even warrant a cheesy montage. He’s bad at kickball, and everyone hates him. Then he’s great at it, and everyone loves him! The actual human connections Phil makes are so flimsy and rote that it hardly gives weight to the movie’s argument — an argument that is so on-the-nose Wanda Sykes shows up to call Phil a phone-obsessed crackhead just to make sure you understand it. Like, we get it. Pretending to be happy online isn’t the same as actually being happy every day. The perfect friend isn’t just someone with Google Maps installed. Is it any wonder that the foul-mouthed, bitchy Jexi comes off as the highlight of this lackluster endeavor? I’d give her my bank account number just to have her run commentary on the movie itself while I watched.
Someday, if you’re bored and Jexi is On Demand, maybe give it a shot. You’ll get some some pretty good insult comedy with a side-helping of visible penis shots for your trouble. I’m just not sure it’s worth paying theater-and-popcorn prices. After all, playing kickball with your friends is free and apparently it’s the better option.
Header Image Source: Lionsgate