Gary (Vince Vaughn) and Brooke (Jennifer Aniston) first meet at a Cubs game, where he bullishly sweet-talks her away from her date, a cipher in plaid shorts and a visor. Then, after a montage of snuggly still photographs — the only images in The Break-Up that demonstrate anything like chemistry between its two stars — they stumble into a fight that detonates their two-year-old relationship. Unmarried cohabitants and joint owners of a yuppie-elegant Chicago condo, Brooke and Gary engage in a desultory modern version of the high-spirited sexual combat that fueled the classic comedies of remarriage of the 1930s and 1940s. But the stakes are low, the script (by Jeremy Garelick and Jay Lavender) strains hard after a few easy jokes, and the whole movie feels dull and trivial.
To its credit, The Break-Up, directed by Peyton Reed (Bring It On, Down With Love), is not entirely predictable. In defying some of the rigid conventions of its genre, it shows some admirable pluck and wit, but these would be more appreciated if the principal characters were worth caring about or if we could believe for a moment that they cared for each other.
Each is given a job, a family and a few defining character traits. Brooke, with Ann-Margret as her briefly glimpsed mother and John Michael Higgins as her sexually ambiguous brother, manages an art gallery; Gary, from meaty Polish stock, works with his two brothers (Cole Hauser and Vincent D'Onofrio) running bus tours of the city. He's a slob; she's a perfectionist. He likes baseball; she prefers ballet. And so on.
The communication problems that wreck their unlikely (and in any case unseen) domestic bliss are strictly Mars-and-Venus, Oscar-and-Felix boilerplate. The arguments Brooke and Gary have, whether about household routines or about feelings, sound more like fumbling PowerPoint summaries of conversations than like real human speech. Reed rarely places Aniston and Vaughn in the same frame, preferring to cut tediously from one to the other. Perhaps this is meant to emphasize the rift between the former lovers, but it often makes it seem as if they are in two different movies, neither one very interesting.
The Break-UpDirected by: Peyton ReedStarring: Vince Vaughn (Gary Grobowski), Jennifer Aniston (Brooke Meyers), Joey Lauren Adams (Maddie), Cole Hauser (Lupus Grobowski), Ann-Margret (Wendy Meyers), Vincent D'Onofrio (Dennis Grobowski)Running time: 105 minutesTaiwan release: Today
Occasionally, a comic spark will issue from one of the stars, who fall back on the tried-and-true sources of their appeal. Aniston will punctuate a scene with a self-approving tilt of her head and a twitch of her adorable nose; Vaughn will talk fast and throw his bulk around, and you may smile in spite of yourself.
More frequently, what comic delight there is comes from the supporting cast: Jon Favreau as Gary's obligatory doofus buddy; D'Onofrio as his weirdly fastidious brother; Judy Davis as Brooke's vamping boss; and Jason Bateman as their friend and real estate agent in one note-perfect scene. Their efforts, unfortunately, are not enough to make The Break-Up memorable, or anything more than mediocre.