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(2004) (Jamie Foxx, Morris Chestnut) (PG-13)

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Romantic Comedy: After writing a best-selling guide detailing how to break up with someone, a man ends up falling for his cousin's girlfriend.
Quincy Watson (JAMIE FOXX) and his cousin Evan Fields (MORRIS CHESTNUT) work together at Spoil Magazine where they have a new boss, Philip Gascon (PETER MacNICOL). When his live-in girlfriend, Helen Sharp (BIANCA LAWSON), unceremoniously dumps him, Quincy quits his job and sets out to write a "how to" manual about ending romantic relationships. It's soon a bestseller and Philip asks for Quincy's help in breaking up with his gold-digger girlfriend, Rita Monroe (JENNIFER ESPOSITO), who does not intend to let her rich catch get away.

Meanwhile, Evan mistakenly begins to believe that his girlfriend, physical therapist Nicky Callas (GABRIELLE UNION), is about to break up with him. Thus, he sends Quincy to a bar to talk him up to her. Yet, since he's never met her and she's changed her looks from the description Evan gave him, Quincy doesn't realize he's talking to her, although she does. Meanwhile, Rita learns that Philip is using Quincy as his coach and decides to exchange sexual favors for him laying off the plan.

Unbeknownst to Quincy, however, Evan decides to pose as him to her. From that point on, Quincy finds himself falling for Nicky all while the resulting mistaken identities cause comedic complications to pile up.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
If you've ever ended a romantic relationship or been the unsuspecting "victim" of such a break, you probably wished that there were a better or at least less painful way of getting through the ordeal. Quincy Watson is one such person. After his live-in girlfriend dumps him, he sets out to write a manual about how to avoid the usual method and technique of such an action.

The result is supposed to be comedic hilarity in "Breakin' All the Rules," but this flat, lame and often far too forced of an effort only occasionally elicits some laughs. Considering the setup and ensuing romantic quandaries, mistaken identities and such, you'd think that the film would offer funnier or at least more amusing material.

Unfortunately, writer/director Daniel Taplitz ("Commandments") pretty much bumbles and fumbles the material just like a lover stumbling his or her way through a breakup. Rather than being sharp, witty and/or observant about relationships and such matters, the resultant film is lacking in imagination and/or insights into the subject matter.

For all of the focus on the protagonist's manual -- "Spoil's Breakup Handbook" -- none of that material is particularly funny or creative. And it certainly doesn't show that the author has improved upon or at least streamlined the breakup process. There are bits about appearing sullen or with no emotional expression at all (with the predictable ensuing comments about appearing constipated and such), but that's about as clever as it gets.

Rather than doing anything fun with that material, the filmmaker quickly has his characters get into various romantic and/or "complicated" quandaries. The protagonist ends up falling for his cousin's girlfriend, while the cousin gets involved with a gold-digger -- after making her believe he's the first man -- who's trying to trade sex for getting him to lay off helping their boss dump her. And, of course, the original girlfriend returns to complicate matters.

Some of them realize what's going on, while others don't, and hilarity is supposed to spring from the mistaken identities and/or manipulation that's occurring. There is some potential there if handled just right, but the script is so weak, disjointed and strays too much into farce land that all of it's wasted.

Anytime a film uses a dog peeing on the floor -- and then actually smiling back at the camera -- you know you're in trouble and that indicator occurs quite early in the film. Then there are the running gags featuring the above dog becoming a lush as well as a lecherous old man bit where shriveled nudity and senior lust are supposed to induce laughter. I'm sure it will for some viewers, but most will likely see it as a filmmaker grasping for comedy straws.

With the weak script as their guide, the performers who show up on the screen have little chance of succeeding. Jamie Foxx ("Ali," "Bait") plays the protagonist, but never gets a believable handle on his character, a similar fate that befalls Morris Chestnut ("Confidence," "Half Past Dead") as his cousin. Even Gabrielle Union ("Bad Boys II," "Deliver Us From Eva") can't do anything with her misguided and underwritten character that becomes involved with both men. Considering that the character is using the aforementioned manual as her guide and/or cheat sheet, I suppose that shouldn't be a huge surprise, but I kept hoping more would come of the triangular relationship.

Most annoying is the subplot featuring Peter MacNicol ("Baby Geniuses," "Bean") as a henpecked executive who let's his domineering, gold-digger of a girlfriend -- played by Jennifer Esposito ("The Master of Disguise," "Don't Say a Word") -- repeatedly stymie his efforts to break up with her. Each attempt and subsequent defeat is presumably supposed to be funny. Unless you miss the actor doing what's essentially his bit from the old TV show "Ally McBeal," however, it's unlikely that you'll be falling from your chair in laughter.

While I'm glad that this loosely defined "romantic comedy" has at least broken some of the formulaic rules of the genre, that doesn't mean it's any less redundant than most such efforts of the genre. As the big climatic scene -- where all of the characters and plotlines come together at a party -- fumbles like most every other comedic attempt, a though may come to mind.

And that's that the filmmaker should have spent more time reading a manual about how to make a more efficient and successful film than one based on gags related to relationships and breaking up. Although it offers a few occasional laughs, for the most part "Breakin' All the Rules" isn't worth your time. It rates as a 3.5 out of 10.

Reviewed May 11, 2004 / Posted May 14, 2004

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