'Break-Up' should have been dumped

By , Film critic of The Christian Science Monitor

If, as the ads would lead you to believe, you go to see "The Break-Up" expecting a romantic comedy, you will be severely disappointed. If you go to it expecting a good movie, you will also be severely disappointed.

As Variety's Brian Lowry wrote, "The Break-Up" may be "the first 'last-date' movie - the one you see with someone you're about to dump." If that's your intention, there can be no better choice.

It's not just that this film isn't funny. Ad campaigns, after all, are often intentionally misleading, and no one should expect a film to be just like its trailer. The problem is that this unfunny holler fest doesn't work as a serious film either. It's only reason for being, apparently, is as fodder for the Jennifer Aniston/Vince Vaughn tabloid rumor mill. Both give clenched, one-note performances more suitable for the soaps.

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Things go wrong with the movie right away. Gary (Vaughn), a bus-tour operator in Chicago, spots Brooke (Aniston), an upscale art-gallery employee, at a Cubs game and immediately puts the rush on her even though she's with a date. Gary's motormouth come-ons are reminiscent of what Vaughn spewed to much greater comic effect in "Wedding Crashers."

What follows is a lickety-split montage detailing the upward trajectory of the relationship. They end up sharing an elegant condo - much too spiffy for their salaries, but we'll let it pass - and right away things grind to a halt as we witness the first of an interminable series of arguments. She wants him to clean up after a dinner party and he wants to play video games.

They come apart before we have had a chance to see what brought them together. Why should we care since nothing is at stake?

Brooke threatens to leave and Gary calls her bluff. But, because both want to remain in the condo, they end up living in separate battle zones around a common area. He puts in a pool table and sleeps on the couch; she mopes in the bedroom and tries to make him jealous by bringing dates around.

Of course, director Peyton Reed ("Down With Love") and screenwriters Jeremy Garelick and Jay Lavender conveniently avoid any nasty consequences by constantly devising ways for Brooke to avoid having sex with her suitors. And Gary seems more interested in playing poker with the guys.

Why would these two be together in the first place? She's a culture vulture and he unknowingly refers to the Sistine Chapel as the "Sixteenth Chapel." She has to drag him to the ballet when he'd rather be beering with his buddies. Yes, opposites have been known to attract. They can also repel.

The filmmakers seem to be taking the position that Gary and Brooke should be together because deep down they love each other. Meanwhile we can't wait for them to do the right thing and break up. It's always a problem when the audience is way ahead of the people who made the movie. If it wasn't for some marvelous supporting turns by the likes of Judy Davis, John Michael Higgins, and especially Vincent D'Onofrio, there would be no reason to stick around at all. D'Onofrio plays Gary's sulky brother, and as usual he gives the role a wonderfully eccentric physicality, a hulky grace. It's always inspiring, as well as depressing, to watch a great actor give his all to tripe.

There have been terrific films about breakups - try renting Ingmar Bergman's "Scenes From a Marriage." But I can't recall any other couples movie that so blithely avoids the most basic rudiments of what makes men and women split up.

"The Break-Up" is about relationships, but it looks like it was made by people who have never been in one. Grade: D+

Rated PG-13 for sexual content, some nudity, and language.

Sex/Nudity: 10 instances. of innuendo, 3 instances of posterior nudity. Violence: 3 scenes with violent video games. Profanity: 66 instances, including 27 harsh. Drugs/Alcohol/Tobacco: 10 scenes with drinking, 1 of smoking.

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