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A bad "Break-Up"
Seattle Times movie critic
He loves baseball, she loves ballet. He's messy, she's neat. He works as a schmoozy tour guide, she works at a sterile-looking art gallery. He dresses in wrinkled T-shirts and jeans, she wears chic little dresses and carries designer handbags. He's from Mars, she's from Venus. Hmm, should they call the whole thing off?
"The Break-Up," a grim excuse for a romantic comedy, is basically an hour and 45 minutes spent in the company of two unpleasant people during a miserable time in their lives. Presumably at some point Brooke (Jennifer Aniston) and Gary (Vince Vaughn) were happy together — a photo montage under the opening credits indicates as much — but the film isn't interested in showing us that, or indeed any reason why these two would be drawn together in the first place. Instead, director Peyton Reed shows them squabbling, choosing territory in their Chicago condo, kvetching to their friends and using other people to wreak petty revenge on each other. Sounds like fun, no?
Reed at times seems confused as to what kind of movie he's trying to make. At times "The Break-Up" attempts artiness with a hand-held camera (during Brooke and Gary's first big fight, you may get slightly queasy). That, and the presence of Judy Davis (wasted as an over-the-top gallery owner), made me wonder if Reed was attempting a big-budget Hollywood re-spin on Woody Allen's "Husbands and Wives," another film that explored painful but darkly comic territory in a couple's break-up.
Like "Husbands and Wives," "The Break-Up" arrives in the wake of much tabloid fodder about its two stars; unlike the Allen film, nothing in Reed's film goes below the surface. It's been billed as an anti-romantic comedy, which I guess means that the romance and the comedy has been left out.
Here, the filmmakers didn't bother to create characters (other than the standard-issue male/female traits described above), because they didn't need to: They had Aniston and Vaughn, two big stars whose appeal should be more than enough to bring the audiences in. So, presumably, we're supposed to assume that these two characters loved each other and were happy, because they were Aniston and Vaughn and lived in a pretty apartment, and we're supposed to care that they're splitting up. But we don't — the backbone of romantic comedy is that we're supposed to believe that the couple belongs together, and we've been given no reason to believe this about Brooke and Gary.
Aniston, an appealing presence on screen (she's quite touching in "Friends with Money," still in theaters), mostly looks sad or annoyed here. There's little chemistry between her and Vaughn, and little reason for any. I suppose there are pleasures to be had from watching "The Break-Up" — Aniston's outfits are lovely, the apartment may inspire a few decorating ideas and some of the film's observations on male/female behavior may ring true. (Do men really not mind sleeping on mattresses without sheets? Gary apparently doesn't.)
But ultimately, Reed's achievement is a dubious one: He's created the anti-date movie.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company