- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2006

“The Break-Up” has every element of the modern “rom-com” formula in place, from quirky supporting characters to the jerry-riggednot in W but I think it’s OK; same form as jerry-built.

Yet somehow we’re won over — not by Jennifer Aniston in the thankless role of the compliant girlfriend, but by Vince Vaughn’s sloborific self.

We could watch Mr. Vaughn trash-talk over video games all day. That motor mouth of his puts the fizz in director Peyton Reed’s film, and he makes it look easy.

Of course, he’s been recycling the same persona since he staked a claim to it in 1996’s “Swingers.”

Mr. Vaughn plays Gary, a Chicago tour guide who aggressively courts a local arts curator named Brooke (Miss Aniston, looking like the “after” picture for a new tanning cream) in the opening sequence.

They fall in love via a montage of lovey-dovey snapshots, and it’s hard to buy a frame of it.

She’s sophisticated, Pilates-toned and generous. He’s a SportsCenter nightmare, an aging frat boy with the gut to prove it.

Still, opposites can attract, and when the story picks up, it’s two years into their relationship.

The pair host their respective families one night for a get-acquainted dinner, a disaster of an evening that leads to a no-holds-barred fight, then the titular breakup.

He won’t lift a finger around the house. All she does is nag. But neither will abandon the condo, the juicy slab of real estate they bought together during better times.

The battle lines are drawn, as is an imaginary partition separating their square footage.

While Gary hopes to wait out Brooke’s bad mood, Brooke is intent on forcing the issue, baldly bringing her dates back to the condo to make him jealous.

He, in turn, reverts to type, slurping beers and bringing in cigar-chomping buddies for poker nights.

Neither truly wants to break up, but their stubborn actions bring them ever closer to a permanent split.

Just to keep score: The couple doesn’t seem like any kind of long-term match; the characters carry on like spoiled children; and first-time screenwriters Jay Lavender and Jeremy Garelick frequently jam jokes into scenes where they don’t belong.

So why does it work, or at least keep us continually engaged?

For all of the script’s flaws, it breaks the mold early and often enough to gain and hold our attention. Those aforementioned supporting characters don’t always behave as they should. Jon Favreau, Mr. Vaughn’s “Swingers” accomplice, adds both insight and menace to his buddy character. Judy Davis barrels through the film as Brooke’s boss, dispensing curious advice and punishing put-downs with equal glee. In just a few minutes of screen time, Jason Bateman cunningly underplays his part as the couple’s real estate agent, letting the otherwise manic comedy take a breath.

Our leads convey the depth of their affections once the split appears insurmountable. Miss Aniston’s big-screen career is still not a slam-dunk, but she’s got enough chops to pull off both the comical sequences and the crying jags. And Mr. Vaughn appears to ad-lib much of his dialogue, all delivered with that puppy-dog appeal that makes his most boorish behavior forgivable.

“The Break-Up” will draw legions curious to see the film that reportedly made the stars a real-life couple. What they won’t expect is the “War of the Roses”-style bitterness or how Mr. Vaughn wins us over while contending for worst-boyfriend-of-the-year honors.

***

TITLE: “The Break-Up”

RATING: PG-13 (Mature themes, partial nudity and adult language)

CREDITS: Directed by Peyton Reed. Written by Jay Lavender and Jeremy Garelick.

RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes

WEB SITE: www.thebreakupmovie.net/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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