2-1/2 stars (out of 4)
"Breakin' All the Rules" sounds like the title of some '80s break-dancing movie. You may think--or I did, at least--that no good movie could be called "Breakin' All the Rules."
Your suspicions may be confirmed when the opening scene climaxes with a dog urinating on the floor. (Note: My editor has complained I've been writing with too much scatological detail of late, but is it my fault that three straight weeks I've had to review a movie featuring a dog letting loose in some nasty way?)
Well, "Breakin' All the Rules" isn't exactly a good movie, but it turns out not to be bad, either. It's a romantic comedy that strains to be screwball but at least is likable.
Leading the way is Jamie Foxx in a relaxed turn as the romantic lead, Quincy Watson, who starts out in one of those doomed movie relationships--i.e., he's supposed to get married, but he can't because then there would be no movie. In this case his roving-eyed fiance Helen (Bianca Lawson) dumps him at their engagement party.
Meanwhile at the office, Quincy's boss Philip (Peter MacNicol) asks him to prepare a study on how to fire someone without provoking undue retaliations. Once Quincy's work is complete, Philip directs him to fire 15 percent of the staff.
"You're the expert," Philip says, adding: "Fortunately I just happen to be in the position to delegate and you are not."
Such sharp dialogue--and the barbed view of corporate America--represent what's best about writer-director Daniel Taplitz's screenplay. He also knows how to keep the plot wheels turning.
Instead of following Philip's directive, Quincy fires himself and takes the time to write Helen a letter that, incorporating his recent work research, grows into "a manual," which becomes a bestseller entitled "The Breakup Handbook." Soon everyone, including his cousin Evan (Morris Chestnut) and even Philip, is soliciting advice on how to dump someone.
Quincy finds himself in some sort of love hexagon as he hits it off with Evan's soon-to-be-ex, Nicky (Gabrielle Union), while Philip's golddigger girlfriend Rita (Jennifer Esposito) comes onto Evan under the mistaken impression that he's Quincy. See, she'd like to convince Quincy not to help the rich, weak-willed Philip break up with her.
Some of these plot machinations are clever, though you usually can hear the gears grinding. Taplitz is fortunate to have Foxx, the winsome Union and the screen-burning Chestnut as the leads; you don't tire of watching them.
MacNicol's Philip, however, is too much the wimpy white guy. The actor and screenplay may manage, with much effort, to position Philip on the right side of the sympathetic/ridiculous fence, but he's still basically a scrawny caricature next to his more vibrant multicultural castmates. Esposito's Rita also is one-note, but at least she's a convincing seductress.
It's too bad that that the movie's glimpses of intelligence don't translate into an overall vision. For each inspired exchange, such as Quincy and Nicky discussing why it's so difficult to bite your own hand, there's a dog passing gas (not my fault!) or some broad slapstick that doesn't work.
The movie doesn't even give you a good idea of what's in "The Breakup Handbook." If filmgoers don't leave with a few novel ideas on how to ash-can a partner, what's the point?
The best screwball comedies seem to breathe helium, but this one never gets airborne. The title is terrible not just because it's generic but because it's untrue. Taplitz has made a movie that's beholden to formula and unwilling to rattle. "Breakin' All the Rules" doesn't break nearly enough.
"Breakin' All the Rules"
Written and directed by Daniel Taplitz; photographed by David Hennings; edited by Robert Frazen; production designed by Jerry Fleming; music by Marcus Miller; produced by Lisa Tornell. A Screen Gems release; opens Friday, May 14. Running time: 1:25. MPAA rating: PG-13 (sexual material/humor, language).
Quincy Watson - Jamie Foxx
Nicky Callas - Gabrielle Union
Evan Fields - Morris Chestnut
Philip Gascon - Peter MacNicol
Rita Monroe - Jennifer Esposito
Helen Sharp - Bianca Lawson