How is "Breakin' All the Rules" different from all the countless other romantic comedies specializing in misunderstandings and mistaken identities? It isn't. Writer-director Daniel Taplitz is content, instead, to parade out an ensemble of paperweight characters as they go through the motions of an extensively bland plot. The film, despite offering a certain amount of gentle chemistry between romantic leads Jamie Foxx (2000's "Bait
") and Gabrielle Union (2003's "Deliver Us from Eva
"), is largely more frustrating than swoonful because the actors are made to act below an average person's intelligence. Anything that could possibly cause a conflict does, as the screenplay's desperation to cook up something interesting exposes the film to be about as frivolous and insubstantial as this genre gets.
After being unceremoniously dumped by his girlfriend, Helen (Bianca Lawson), Quincy Watson (Jamie Foxx) becomes so discouraged by relationships that he finds himself writing "The Breakup Handbook," a guide to the right and wrong ways of handling the title task that becomes an overnight bestseller. When Quincy's smooth-playing cousin, Evan (Morris Chestnut), suspects that his own girlfriend, Nicky (Gabrielle Union), is planning to break up with him, he asks Quincy to meet her at a bar and end their relationship for him. Through a series ofyesmisunderstandings and mistaken identities, Quincy has no idea when he finally comes across Nicky, who has just drastically cut her long locks, and they strike up a connection. Meanwhile, Evan poses as Quincy in order to win the sexual favors of a gold-digger named Rita (Jennifer Esposito). Through a series ofyesmisunderstandings and mistaken identities, Nicky is crushed when she suspects Quincy has been cheating on her with Rita. Will Quincy and Nicky solve all their problems and rekindle what very well could be the first stages of love? Will Evan manipulate Rita enough for her to genuinely fall for him, or will she return to her wealthy, middle-aged publisher boyfriend, Philip Gascon (Peter MacNicol), simply to get his money? And will Quincy be able to salvage his friendship with Evan when he finds out he has mistakenly stolen his girl?
The question that kept coming up during "Breakin' All the Rules" was why should the viewer care about these immature, dishonest people? Quincy, Evan, Nicky, and Rita lie almost continuously to each other, sometimes for personal benefit and other times simply because the script calls for there to be another complication. In one scene, when Quincy and Nicky finally began telling each other the bitter truth, it was startling and refreshing. Finally, these two people were owning up to their mistakes and accepting whatever consequences such wrongful actions might hold. Unfortunately, this newfound sophistication is short-lived, as they regress again to insecurity and weakness. So often in "Breakin' All the Rules," problems could be solved if only the characters had the emotional strength to stand up for themselves. None of them do, resulting in the viewer throwing their hands up in forfeit. How can viewers actively stake a claim in people's lives if the film itself doesn't treat them with the respect and intelligence they deserve?
At 85 minutes, at least "Breakin' All the Rules" is brief, only overstaying its welcome (due to a lack of worthwhile content) by about twenty minutes or so. The cast, also, does well, but these are parts that all of them have done so many times before that this film feels like a carbon copy. Jamie Foxx makes for a likable lead as Quincy, and Gabrielle Union is lovely as always, but why would they be attracted to these parts if not solely for a paycheck? The same goes for Morris Chestnut, who has previously been a part of such interchangeable romantic comedy fare as 1999's "The Best Man
," 2001's "The Brothers," and 2001's "Two Can Play That Game." Even Union appeared in the latter two features. "Breakin' All the Rules" joins this group of forgettable and cliched timestealers without offering up anything new to set it apart from the crowd. "Breakin' All the Rules" breaks none of the rules of the genre, and seems blissfully unaware of its own banality. Either that, or director Daniel Taplitz simply didn't care.