Cape Fear

Superheroes and male anxiety in My Super Ex-Girlfriend.

Uma Thurman

You know it’s a grim summer-movie season when mediocre rom-coms starring a Wilson brother open two weeks in a row. But where last week’s You, Me and Dupree was merely sodden and unfunny, My Super Ex-Girlfriend (Fox), the new Ivan Reitman comedy starring Luke Wilson and Uma Thurman, is actively enraging. Leaving the joyless world of this tale of male sexual panic, you breathe a sigh of relief: Thank God we don’t really live there. Or do we?

In case you missed the tell-all trailer, the film’s hero, Matt (Luke Wilson), is a successful architect—architecture being the career of choice for hunky male movie protagonists. Matt’s romantic comedy to-do list is nearly complete: He’s got the dreamy Manhattan apartment, the wisecracking best friend (Rainn Wilson), and the crush-worthy but unavailable gal Friday at the office (Anna Faris). All that’s missing is the girl, who soon shows up in the form of Jenny (Uma Thurman), a gawky gallery owner given to wearing spectacles and high-necked Victorian dresses. Until, that is, the city finds itself in need of saving, at which point Jenny secretly transforms into G-Girl, a superhero in a corset and garter belt.

Jenny’s real alter ego, though, isn’t a blond superheroine but a basket case. Beneath both the glasses and the corset lurks a needy, neurotic girlfriend given to jealous rages and weeping jags. Matt dumps her in short order, and the rest of the movie is a misogynist’s catalog of escalating offenses: Jenny rips a hole in Matt’s ceiling, puts his car into orbit around the earth, and hurls a shark through the window of her romantic rival. We’re meant to find Jenny comically awful and chortle along in eye-rolling sympathy with Matt, but in fact, the script leaves us with no one to care about at all. If Jenny comes off as a petty-minded hag, Matt is a simpering cad, and the supporting characters (who include Eddie Izzard as G-Girl’s arch-nemesis, the insecure supervillain Professor Bedlam) are too sloppily drawn to provide any real moral counterpoint. Even G-Girl herself is a muddle of a character: Does she perform superdeeds out of a true desire to do good, or simply to manipulate men? An early scene in which she poutily butters a roll as a missile threatens the city takes all the fun out of the subsequent action sequences: Why should we care about the world’s safety if she doesn’t?

A less willfully misogynist movie might have made Thurman’s double identity the starting place for an exploration of female power, super- or otherwise. What would you do if your girlfriend not only made more money than you, but knew how to stop an incoming missile with her bare hands? Instead, the movie, like Wilson’s character, spends two hours cowering under a table, waiting for the scary lady to go away.