- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 13, 2004

Quincy Watson wrote the book on breakin’ up, but it isn’t making his love life any easier.

Nor does Jamie Foxx have it made as the star of “Breakin’ All the Rules,” a romantic comedy that doubles as a compendium of genre conventions.

Funny thing about Mr. Foxx, though. He’s emerging as an actor who can elevate whatever project comes his way.

He gave FX’s “Redemption” telepic enough gravitas to overcome its trite treatment of its imprisoned protagonist, and the buzz is building on his forthcoming “Unchain My Heart: The Ray Charles Story.”

It’s an unlikely career arc, given his days as a gag artist on “In Living Color” and dressing up trifles such as 1997’s “Booty Call.”

With Mr. Foxx on board, “Rules” proves far more tolerable than, say, last year’s “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” which wallowed in formula excess.

Mr. Foxx’s Quincy gets dumped by his drama-hungry girlfriend in the film’s opening reel. Quincy, already under pressure at work to whip up ways to fire his colleagues, snaps in the usual way. He doesn’t bathe or leave his house for days, tics Mr. Foxx invests with warmth and humor.

He assuages his pain by jotting down ways he wished his fiancee might have broken up with him, rather than her emotionally crippling bombshell.

His pal Evan (Morris Chestnut, best known for “The Best Man”) leafs through the pages and realizes the ramblings might make for a compelling primer on relationships.

Before you can reach down for a fistful of popcorn, Quincy’s breakup book is a best seller. Even Quincy’s boss, Peter MacNicol, of “Ally McBeal” fame, calls on Quincy to guide him through his own breakup-to-be, a sneaky subplot that soon wears out its welcome.

Quincy has better luck helping Evan break up with Nicky (Gabrielle Union). Evan thinks she’s about to break up with him, and he wants to beat her to the punch.

In a clumsy case of mistaken identities, Quincy falls for Nicky, thereby administering the relationship’s death blow without realizing she’s Evan’s sweetie.

The rest is a series of miscalculations and nose-thumbing at dating mores, but the talented cast members behave as if it’s the first time they’ve ever met these story conventions.

For every tired gag writer-director Daniel Taplitz trots out, such as the randy old man and the urinating dog, he redeems himself with some precious slapstick.

It’s not good enough to say he lets his players mug when needed, since anyone overseeing Mr. Foxx would be a fool to do otherwise. But Mr. Taplitz shows flair with the film’s physical shtick, especially a hilarious bit involving Mr. MacNicol’s character lashing out at Quincy: That laugh is worth a star all by itself.

Miss Union, who buried her beauty beneath the ugliness that was “Deliver Us from Eva,” rediscovers her gift for playing strong but vulnerable heroines.

Too many romantic-comedy couples these days feel compelled to lie to each other, making their eventual union unsatisfying. Quincy and Nicky, by comparison, begin opening up to each other mid-film without hampering the romance. Instead, it makes it more natural for viewers to invest in their courtship.

“Breakin’ All the Rules” doesn’t so much as bend any romantic bromides, but whenever Mr. Foxx and Miss Union are on screen, it hardly matters.

**1/2

WHAT: “Breakin’ All the Rules”

RATING: PG-13: (coarse language, sexual situations and mature humor)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Daniel Taplitz. Produced by Paddy Cullen, Kevin Halloran and Lisa Tornell. Original music by Marcus Miller.

RUNNING TIME: 85 minutes

WEB SITE: www.sonypictures.com/movies/breakinalltherules

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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