Directed by Peyton Reed
Breaking up is hard to do and so is watching this movie.
A boy meets a girl at a baseball game (not just any game, it's a Cubs v. Sox game). Boy buys girl a hot dog; boy asks girl if she's ever had a ballpark hotdog before; boy goes on to insult girl's boyfriend wearing plaid shorts and a tucked-in shirt. Girl shares hotdog with boyfriend.
Cut to the opening credits and photos of the boy and girl in all sorts of happy times together.
When the credits end, their troubles begin.
The boy in this case is Gary (Vince Vaughn, Dodgeball), a self-absorbed man-child who uses whatever personality he has to dominate social situations. He's a smartass guide on Chicago bus tours; generally a profession for people persons, Gary's made the job his own. Besides, he's a co-owner of the business, along with his two brothers.
The girl is Brooke (Jennifer Aniston, Friends With Money), an attractive art dealer who seems far too "with it" to waste her life hanging out with a schmuckity-schmuck like Gary.
Within a scant 2 years (and this movie feels every minute of it), their relationship hits the rocks beginning with the most innocuous of circumstances. Gary brings back only three lemons from the market instead of 12. But, piling it on post party, he prefers to play video games ("down time is important") instead of helping with the dishes.
Trying to show his smarts, during the percolating heat of an argument, Gary talks about Michelangelo's painting the "16th Chapel." Hmmm... An art dealer and a culturally-devoid slouch. What Gary and Brooke have in common, what they do and talk about when it's just the two of them, away from the buffeting shield of their equally polar opposite cadre of friends, is never even remotely explained.
The Break-Up is far more painful than painfully funny. To see the trailer is to see the movie's best bits. Making it all the more painful is the realization that Vaughn and Jon Favreau, who plays his bartender friend, one who's quick to dole out really bad advice, co-starred in the mini-classic Swingers 10 years ago. Lordy, how the mighty have fallen. Not only have both gained more than a couple pounds in the ensuing years, they've also lost their game.
Even the supporting characters aren't very appealing; the most sympathetic of the bunch is Gary's brother Dennis (Vincent D'Onofrio, TV's Law & Order: Criminal Intent), the shy entrepreneurial genius behind the Three Brothers tour company. It's fun to see D'Onofrio, a big lug, play such a meek, mild-mannered business geek determined to take Chicago by land, sea, and air.
Just about everybody else needs a good slap upside the head, particularly Gary's other brother, Lupus (Cole Hauser, Pitch Black). He's a racist pervert and he simply doesn't fit in here; the thoroughly misplaced "humor" surrounding his character falls with an awe-inducing thud.
Also fairly jarring is Marilyn Dean (Judy Davis, Celebrity), an over-the-top artist who comes across as some sort of modern day Norma Desmond.
Such characters are the incongruous hallmarks of many, many failed TV sitcoms. This material is not the stuff of which a big screen movie is made.
It's All About the Condo
Vaughn takes story credit and assists first time feature screenwriters Jeremy Garelick and Jay Lavender in this surprisingly sluggish fling. To use the lingo of Marilyn Dean, it's strictly paint by numbers, but these guys are working with a particularly dull palette.
Even more disappointing is that director Peyton Reed, who brought so much energy to the highly entertaining Bring It On and the fizzy Down With Love, fails to instill much zest into this mess.
Instead of building up to a vociferous battle of the sexes, The Break-Up plays more like a tease awaiting great makeup sex that's never to be. Brooke and Gary simply wind up spending a couple of weeks living in separate rooms in the condo they co-purchased (Gary willingly takes the living room so he can play videogames late into the night), all the while instigating lame antics in their efforts to make each other jealous.
One of the movie's biggest problems is that the deck is heavily stacked in Brooke's favor. She's a good girl, a fairly sympathetic character. Gary's a borderline self-absorbed loser. So there's no desire to cheer these two back together and there's no joy in seeing Brooke get her feelings hurt.
Equally irritating, since they took the leap relatively quickly to actually buy a place together, a good part of the focus of their relationship seems more about the friendly confines of their condo than the two people who have shared that space.
All's Well that Ends
It does not give away the ending to say another sad thing about this affair gone bad is it will teach more impressionable and gullible women and girls that men can change, you just need to give ‘em enough time to come around.
As for that ending, The Break-Up actually has a couple of them. The second one is a thoroughly tedious and unnecessary epilogue that feels like it was ripped out of a high school play, and the acting matches.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.