Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018
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Movie review: Breakin' All the Rules ***

Breakin' All the Rules is a guy flick. But not in the way movies about men under fire, men tossing fireballs, or men batting balls around are guy flicks. No one is chased down the street, or gives chase with a semi-automatic rifle in hand. It's a guy flick about guys dealing with relationships and other guys, and the lessons they learn. (In short, don't mess with women.) Jamie Foxx plays a guy who writes a book for other guys detailing his strategies for breaking up, and then, yeah, the usual complications show up.

And the usual mistaken identities. And the usual missed hook-ups. And the usual tangle of misunderstandings that lead to the usual romantic couples dumping their romantic interests and searching in vain for 75 minutes for the correct romantic interest before the end credits roll - as if they were starring in some illegitimate offspring of The Match Game and a dozen romantic comedies from the '40s.

Adding to the familiarity is Gabrielle Union as the object of Foxx's affection and the linchpin on which all misunderstandings must turn. She has been here before, and so have you if you have seen Two Can Play That Game, Deliver Me From Eva, or Brown Sugar. So, sure, Breakin' All the Rules does nothing of the sort.

You probably knew that going in. But that you don't mind much, that it has charm as you hang out and listen to funny people give little tweaks to ordinary lines - that it's better than its generic title suggests - is the result of a likable cast. And besides, I was digging this set-up:

Quincy Watson (Foxx) is a magazine editor asked by his boss (professional timid white guy Peter MacNicol of Ally McBeal) to help fire his co-workers. He can't do it and quits. That night his girlfriend (Bianca Lawson) breaks up with him. Foxx is such an easy, likable presence he never affects the cockiness other actors might have brought. He has a confidence born of intelligence and self-possession, and his heartache isn't earned. So we're just as surprised as his cousin Evan (Morris Chestnut) when Quincy says he wrote a book about it. He says he got to thinking: he was fired by his girlfriend in a particularly bad way, and started writing her a letter to deal with the pain, and just kept going. Now he has this book-length rebuttal, and in a subsequent three-minute music video montage, we watch as Quincy becomes a celebrated authority on how to end a relationship.

All of this happens far too quickly to make sense of. Which is disappointing because, plot-wise, it's like brushing past a free sushi plate for little pieces of chicken wrapped in bacon. But Foxx is one of those increasingly valuable actors who can elevate cheap material. And his quick-fix, sure-fire breakup method? "The Passive Aggressive Bullet Straight to the Head." This entails pouting, and saying nothing is wrong, no nothing is wrong, I said nothing is wrong - and then BAM, breaking the news.

You can probably image this movie in your head. There's a reason for that. I mentioned this is a guy flick, and it is. But if there's a male equivalent to the chick flick - that condescending, but not entirely misleading, term for movies made for sensitive, relationship-obsessed women - it's here, trickling from odd corners of Hollywood.

One or two a year get through, and it makes sense: There's chick lit, and there's chick flicks, but there's never been an easy way of marketing films to guys about guys relating, or pondering the mysteries of life, or enjoying each other's company - in a purely heterosexual, Hollywood-ready way.

So movies like Breakin; All the Rules don't look like guy flicks - the last great one I can think of from off the top of my head is The Shawshank Redemption. And that was set in a prison, of course. But otherwise, with the exception of romance troubles, it conformed in every way: the tears, the long conversations, the overcoming of secret fears.

It was a click flick for guys - a guy flick. So is Breakin' All the Rules. And since the rest of the plot of Breakin' All the Rules could drive you mad if you tried to make sense of it, or apply logic to it, here are a few closing observations:

● Breakin' All the Rules is obsessed with shirts. Collars are fly-away, cuffs go fashionably un-cuffed. Clothes are a big deal here, and everyone looks great.

● The title, "Breakin' All the Rules," is bad, but it's also a sly play on an another infamous dating guide, that '90s tome The Rules, with its laws of when and how to return phone calls. As with that book, I imagine Quincy's hit remainder tables quicker than I made it back to my car.

● All chick flicks have himbos. This one has an old-fashioned bimbo in Jennifer Esposito, who plays MacNicol's kinky fiance. Asked why she stays with a "rich, boring white guy," she answers: "I grew up dirt poor on the wrong side of Toledo." Being that my screening was in Toledo, I couldn't hear her next line over the shock, the only genuine one in all of Breakin' All the Rules.

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