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The Break-Up   C-

Universal Pictures

Year Released: 2006
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Peyton Reed
Writers: Jeremy Garelick, Jay Lavender
Cast: Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Aniston, Joey Lauren Adams, Ann-Margret, Jason Bateman, Judy Davis, Vincent D'Onofrio, Jon Favreau, Cole Hauser, John Michael Higgins, Justin Long.

Review by Rob Vaux

When, oh when, will the scorching on-screen chemistry between Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau finally be consummated? Their electric sparks have ignited every project pairing them together, and The Break-Up is no exception. Feel the joy of Favreau in full White Sox gear, baiting the pro-Cubs crowd at Wrigley Field while Vaughn looks on and mutters, "Are we gonna do this now?" Marvel at their emotional intimacy when Favreau's Johnny O reveals that Vaughn's Gary Grobowski can really be selfish sometimes (and dammit, it hurts!). Witness their tender verbal lovemaking as Favreau offers to have Vaughn's potential romantic rival whacked by anonymous thugs. As a couple, they're hypnotic, and in these grand post-Brokeback days of sexual honesty, I think we're ready to see them take the next step. A rom-com is the only logical conclusion to their combined cinematic magic. Bring it on, boys: the possibilities are endless!

Sadly, the producers of The Break-Up have other ideas, relegating Favreau to sidekick status while pairing Vaughn with... uh, Jennifer Whatshername. The chemistry, sadly, just isn't there -- regardless of any alleged offscreen canoodling -- and while The Break-Up can be applauded for taking a road less traveled, it coasts a distressingly long way on the buzz of tabloid gossip. Director Peyton Reed charts a potentially interesting course by covering the end of his couple's relationship rather than the beginning -- providing the film with a refreshing tartness that defies the genre's do-you-really-have-to-ask-if-they-end-up-together conventions. But he also fails to justify why they ever might have hooked up in the first place, which leaves us struggling to care when it all falls apart. Nor does he make good on the dark possibilities of a really poisonous dissolution, avoiding the gallows humor of such anti-romantic masterpieces as The War of the Roses. Instead, what we get is dull, at times unpleasant, and notable more for its against-the-grain novelty than any real value on-screen.

First and foremost, the notion that two such opposites could ever attract is far-fetched in the extreme. Grobowski runs a Chicago tour bus with his two brothers, and embodies a laundry list of guy clichés: sports lover, PlayStation addict, selfish boor. Aniston's Brooke Meyers, on the other hand, is a sleek, sophisticated art dealer, given to sing-a-longs with her family and tasteful charcoal sketches framed on the wall. When they first meet at the aforementioned Cubs game, Grobowski throws himself at her like a deranged stalker, unleashing the usual spate of Vaughn witticisms in an effort to appear charming. And yet, the film assures us that it works -- followed with an in-credits photomontage of several blissful years together -- despite the fact that any rational woman would have pepper-sprayed him and called security.

Such sloppy situational shorthand proves costly, for it fails to invest the couple with any real emotional truth. When the titular breakup occurs a short time later, there's no sense of loss or heartbreak accompanying it -- nor do we feel any sense of gleeful schadenfreude that comes when characters craft their own misery. It just sort of happens, eliciting a shrug and a "whatever" rather than the necessary investment of... well, anything. The Break-Up scores some points by avoiding the traditional premise that they're both at fault, instead foisting the bulk of the blame on Grobowski. He refuses to assist in the preparation of a lengthy dinner, leaving it to Meyers to cook and clean while he lies on the couch and watches SportsCenter. When she asks him to do the dishes afterwards, he grouses and complains, leading to a very understandable explosion and the dissolution of their union. Had The Break-Up developed his character less awkwardly from there, it might have taken that fragile sense of originality to great places.

Instead, it rapidly devolves into stale sitcom territory. Neither party is willing to vacate their condo (despite the abundance of friends with presumably comfy couches), and each wishes to establish dominance in their suddenly deflated relationship. Reed endeavors to reveal how they still have feelings for each other, and how wounded love can often twist into shocking acts of viciousness. But their respective jabs and counterthrusts are quite toothless, relying on comic timing that labors to manifest and Vaughn's motor mouth to cover up the slow spots. Without the needed laughs, their squabbling becomes difficult to watch, and yet The Break-Up's ostensible commitment to their "true" feelings keeps the more cynical elements from going for the throat. The film's novelty value rapidly wears thin, unable to develop its ideas past the patently obvious. A slew of talented supporting players (Favreau, Judy Davis, Jason Bateman, and Vincent D'Onofrio, among others) is similarly squandered, presented with characters who might have been interesting if the film had the slightest idea what to do with them.

Indeed, one of those undercards pounds the nail into the coffin, for whenever Favreau is onstage, Vaughn's energy goes through the roof -- and you see the kind of rapid-fire edginess that he and Aniston desperately needed to push the project past the rough spots. Without it, The Break-Up can't salvage its well-intentioned premise, lacking both the plausibility to sell its central relationship and the nastiness to push the humor where it needs to go. At least it leaves us with the hope of a much better romance in the future. Like so many other would-be paramours, Vaughn never notices his character's true soul mate... sitting right across the bar from him, with close-cropped beard and a brew in his Sox-loving hands. Hey, fellas, when are we finally gonna see you crazy kids give it a go? The Break-Up could have used more of what you're packing.

Review published 06.02.2006.

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