A rich and insightful film could be (and has been) made on the subject of a couple crossing the line into cohabitation—on the welter of minute psychological tolls that drive a relationship to sink or swim. Exit Strategy is not that film; it’s a slick, low-budget “un-romantic” comedy that immediately dynamites any ties to the real world or recognizable human behavior. After sleepy thrift store clerk James (co-writer Jameel Saleem) is unexpectedly evicted, the only one who will put him up is new girlfriend Kim (Kimelia Weathers). How new is their relationship? He’s never even slept with her in either sense of the word, nor evidently knows that she’s a raving grotesque with enough appalling habits to encompass 10 bad paramours. James finds himself in a house where the dominant color is pink (of course), his every movement monitored and judged, his food swapped out for Whole Foods dreck like facon. Neglecting to supplicate her with a full dozen roses leads him to be labeled a “rapist,” her father is scarily intense (and really into Vicky Christina Barcelona) and—why not?—Kim may even be a murderer.
No surprise that it takes only seven minutes for James to dub her “the antichrist.” This revelation however, leaves Exit Strategy with nowhere much to go but in circles, spinning wheels until the inevitable unearned 11th-hour revelation that Kim might not be a total succubus. A better film—not even a smarter one, simply one with a better storytelling sense—wouldn’t have stacked the deck so high against her, although the filmmakers don’t seem to realize their hero isn’t perfect. Weak-willed, ineffectual and dense, James has the ambitions and interests of a small boy. “She doesn’t let me watch TV in bed and she makes me do chores,” he complains early on, belying his ambitions. Later, he enlists the aid of a high school nerd. “Women are irrational,” this young charge points out, and despite having actual notches on his bed post, James’ insights into the fairer sex are about as deep. Like its lead, Exit Strategy is laid-back enough to be generally likable, and first-timer Michael Whitton directs clean and energetically (dig the Petulia-style editing flash-forwards). No film this pleasant-vibed could be as hateful as Exit Strategy could have been.