Vince Vaughn, in his occasionally illustrious 20-odd year movie career, has yet to play a character that isn’t Vince Vaughn. He may have upped the creep factor a bit for the “Psycho” remake, but by and large every role of his is all smartass staccato commentary and rumpled charm like the Trent Walker from “Swingers.” It’s served him well, and if the resulting performances aren’t exactly iconic, at least everyone under the age of 35 can recite the “Cheeeeeese” speech from “Old School,” which is notoriety of a sort.
With “The Break-Up,” Vaughn now has his shot at co-headlining a semi-serious romantic comedy. He plays Gary Grobowski, a Chicago tour bus guide, who somehow finds himself paired off with Brooke (Jennifer Aniston), an art dealer who honestly looks like she should be dating anyone but the slovenly Gary. The couple meet cute at a Cubs game and before long are sharing a spacious high-rise condo of the kind usually found in such movies. However, after a disastrous dinner party in which Gary’s insensitivity finally pushes Brooke over the edge (he’s disinclined to help her with the dishes, or much of anything else), she decides she’s had enough and breaks things off. Trouble is, neither is willing to leave their pad, and thus begins an allegedly hilarious series of events resulting from two people who’d rather not spend time together forced to share a roof.
Ironically enough, Aniston and Vaughn – in real life The 8th Most Intriguing Couple in Hollywood (ranking just below Scarlett Johansson’s breasts and just above Paris Hilton and the last guy who sold her weed) – don’t have the onscreen chemistry necessary to make “The Break-Up” work.. To accept that they’re having relationship issues is to believe that there was ever a chance in hell type-A Brooke and beer league Gary would’ve ever hooked up in the first place. Once the couple part company, they’re free at last to abuse each other in ways they’d doubtless been fantasizing about for months (she brings strange men to their place, he holds an impromptu strip Texas Hold ‘Em tournament). Tensions predictably escalate and we’re forced to spend the rest of the movie pretending like we care if these two annoying slices of Wonder Bread end up together.
If Aniston has a problem, it’s in forever being attached to an awful sitcom that ran for a mind-boggling ten years. Her association with “Friends’” Rachel Green isn’t helped by her seeming inability to distance herself from the character by, you know, acting. Aside from sporting a spray-on tan that fluctuates in hue throughout the film, Brooke might as well be hanging with Monica and Phoebe on her nights off.
While “The Break-Up” fancies itself the heir apparent to other vindictive failed relationship movies like “Modern Romance” and “War of the Roses,” its lead actors lack the comparable appeal to hold our interest. If you’re a fan of Vaughn’s rapid-fire tirades, you’ll probably enjoy his scenes, but Aniston brings nothing. Aside from Vaughn, it’s the supporting cast that provides the only real spark. Jon Favreau and Vincent D’Onofrio have nice turns as Gary’s best friend and older brother, respectively, as do Jason Bateman as the couple’s realtor and Judy Davis as Brooke’s diva boss. When they’re on screen and diverting us from the requisite and tedious “will they or won’t they?” subplot, we at least get a glimpse of how the movie could’ve worked. Unfortunately, we eventually have to return to the main plot and its inevitable slide into mawkishness.
Instead of agonizing over whether the two pseudo-lovebirds end up together, ask yourself this: If you were a guy, in your late 30s, who’d never in his life taken a romantic partner’s feelings into consideration, wouldn’t it be better not to start? And wouldn’t you resent the woman who made you do so? And ladies, what would compel you to want to take a tactless dirtbag like that back in the first place?
If you can answer these questions, you’ll have a better time at “The Break-Up” than I did. Maybe you can also tell me why I couldn’t get a date in college.