Anyone looking to acquire a taste for the admittedly acquired taste that is Adam Devine might want to skip “Jexi,” a star-vehicle comedy which makes him second banana to a smartmouthed smart phone.
Rose Byrne voices the phone, a glitchy Siri/Alexis/Cortana that takes over a hapless San Francisco loser’s life. But really, almost anybody could have managed that “star” turned into “supporting player” trick.
Devine’s inexplicable march from “Modern Family” into “Jewish Jack Black, only not nearly as talented and not particularly funny” on the big screen earns another “Ok, this isn’t working out” with this R-rated, calorie and charm-free wheezer of a comedy.
“Jexi” might have been more at home on Netflix, where is where Devine’s recent work has turned up. At least there, you’re only a screen prompt away from “back to menu.” His needy screen comedies always try too hard, always hit their R rating too eagerly.
Devine plays Phil, a creator of listicles for a San Francisco web media company, Chatterbox.
Phil is part of a large team that cooks up “Ten cats that look like Ryan Gosling” “stories” that drive the site’s traffic. We barely have time to not laugh at Phil, or his colleagues (Charlyne Yi, the Miss “Nineteen Strikes and You’re Out” of comedy casting, and Ron Funches), when the life of the party bursts in to scream a few threats, snort a few insults — Phil is “Prison Lips” — and find the only live-action laughs in “Jexi.”
That would be Michael Peña, playing the boss, Kai, a bone-headed bundle of bullying insecurities. His best trick? Demanding a human beat-box chorus from his minions for his every exit.
“Play me out.”
Phil lives alone and lives through his phone, ordering food and his life through the screen he rarely takes his eyes off of. Even crashing into a cute cyclist (Alexandra Shipp of the Young “X-Men” movies) only rattles him when he loses that phone.
But its replacement — provided by the foul-mouthed phone store clerk (Wanda Sykes), who lectures him about what “little crackheads” “hipsters” like Phil are, thanks to their phones — is about to rock his world.
From the moment he powers her up, his new digital assistant is a little…off.
“Did you read the terms of service agreement?”
Who bothers with that? No.
Jexi is “here to make your life better.” And for “her,” that begins with passing judgement on Phil’s solitary, anti-social life, his foiled ambitions (a journalism degree), his limited diet and his inability to manage anything like charming or even appropriate behavior with the opposite sex.
Oh yes, the utterly charmless “meet cute” with Cate the bicycle shop cutie (Shipp) must be rectified with dating help. The “f——g moron” of a boss (Jexi’s words) must be pressed for a promotion. Jexi gives Phil no choice in these matters.
That’s the clever conceit here, that a defective cloud software assistant, with access to all your data — from work history and health records to bank accounts, social media passwords, the works — could take over and run your life “better.” And if she’s a little clingy? Well, Jexi knows how to hit where it hurts and how to get her way when cornered.
Pork for dinner, again?
“You look like you could use a salad, Phil.”
Jexi’s “fastest route to work” entails driving a Mini Cooper across four lanes of breakneck San Francisco traffic.
“Stop being a chicken, Phil. Strap on a sack, Phil.”
About one in 40 of those Jexi putdowns is funny. And after a while, even that batting average is unsustainable.
And that leaves us with a clipped, digitized until its almost unrecognizable Rose Byrne voice, a whole lot of Adam Devine and not nearly enough scenes with Michael Peña.
Who’s funny enough to earn his “Play me out” beat-boxing.
Devine? Still an acquired taste that defies acquisition.
MPAA Rating: R for strong/crude sexual content and language throughout, some drug use and graphic nudity
Cast: Adam Devine, Alexandra Shipp, Michael Peña, Wanda Sykes, Charlyne Yi, Ron Funches and the voice of Rose Byrne.
Credits: Written and directed by Jon Lucas, Scott Moore. A Lionsgate/CBS Films/eOne release.
Running time: 1:30