New job, new town, new baby.

For Tom Reilly and Sofia Kowalski (Zach Braff and Amanda Peet), the anxiety runs high. But they're a happy couple. They can manage, right?

Under normal circumstances, sure. But what about that nutjob in the wheelchair?

In The Ex, a workplace comedy spiked with jealousy and obsession, the two New Yorkers relocate to suburban Ohio. She's a lawyer who's quit work to raise the baby. He's a chef, canned by his boss. It's Sofia's hometown, and Tom's swallowed his pride to take a job at his father-in-law's ad agency.

Tom can live with that, even if he doesn't know the first thing about advertising - and even if the firm's New Agey business aesthetic rubs him wrong, with its Pee-Wee's Playhouse decor and that imaginary "yes ball" being tossed among the coworkers.

But Tom's not sure he can live with the wheelchair-bound Chip Sanders (Jason Bateman), an account executive assigned to mentor the novice employee. Chip is apparently still carrying a torch for Sofia - they were an item in high school, and now he thinks he's got a shot at winning her back, and stabbing her husband in the back while he's at it.

And he'll shamelessly exploit his handicap to do it.

Written by David Guion and Michael Handelman, and directed by Jesse Peretz, The Ex is uneven stuff. Some of the most tasteless and un-PC comedy in the film is also the funniest - Farrelly Brothers-style humor that plays off the Bateman character's physical limitations. Everyone thinks Chip is great, charming, funny - everyone but Tom, who can see the demon psycho lurking beneath his smiling preppie veneer.

But much of The Ex plays out like uninspired sitcom. After The Last Kiss and Garden State, not to mention Scrubs (second only to Law and Order when it comes to TV ubiquity), Braff's shtick, his bug-eyed, hangdog, goofy-grin thing, is getting tired. Even Peet, whose wicked flair for dark comedy brightened up The Whole Nine Yards and the great Igby Goes Down, seems off her game - worn out and weary, like the stay-at-home new mom she's playing.

Bateman brings deadpan drollery to the affair, but the lines aren't always there to help him, and director Peretz (The Chateau, First Love Last Rites) lets the pace lag, and sag. He muffles the slap in slapstick.

The Ex **1/2 (out of four stars)

Directed by Jesse Peretz, written by David Guion and Michael Handelman, photography by Tom Richmond, distributed by MGM Pictures.

Running time: 1 hour, 30 mins.

Tom Reilly.......................... Zach Braff Sofia Kowalski. . . Amanda Peet

Chip Sanders. . . Jason Bateman

Bob Kowalski............. Charles Grodin

Amelia Kowalski. . . Mia Farrow

Parent's guide: PG-13 (profanity, comic violence, adult themes)

Playing at: area theaters