Breakin’ All the Rules

“Breakin’ All the Rules” is boring, and all the people in it are stupid. I wish I could leave it at that, but I have a job to do. Sigh.

What writer/director Daniel Taplitz has written is a farce, except no one told him, and so he keeps directing it like a serious comedy. It is packed with mistaken identities, mischievous ruses, screwball plot twists and other accouterments of farce … but for some reason it all stays tamped down and cool. Maybe Taplitz was afraid it would be beneath everyone’s dignity to cut loose and really go for the laughs.

Whatever the reason, the film suffers because of it, and the audience suffers along with it. It is about a man named Quincy (Jamie Foxx), a Los Angeles men’s magazine editor who writes a book called the “Breakup Handbook” that teaches people how to dump their significant others without significant turmoil. He gleaned this expertise after being dumped, and combined his thoughts with the research he did on the best methods of firing people in a business setting. The book becomes a bestseller.

Meanwhile, his cousin and best friend Evan (Morris Chestnut), who works at the same magazine, has been dating a woman named Nicky (Gabrielle Union) who he thinks is about to dump him. He sends Quincy as his emissary, to talk him up and get Nicky to change her mind — except that Nicky pretends not to be Nicky and pretends not to know that the man she’s talking to is her boyfriend’s cousin. Quincy, who has never met Nicky, doesn’t realize the nice woman he’s talking to in the bar while he’s waiting for Nicky IS Nicky.

They begin to date, of course, and Quincy soon realizes that he and his cousin are dating the same woman. Naturally, he doesn’t tell Evan this and put a stop to it, or else the movie would end immediately. So instead, we must endure what Roger Ebert calls an Idiot Plot, where everything could be solved easily if one of the characters would just SAY something.

But wait, there’s more. Evan and Quincy’s nerdy boss (Peter MacNicol) has a golddigging girlfriend he wants to break up with but lacks the courage. Sensing she’s about to lose her money train, the woman (Jennifer Esposito) sets out to seduce Quincy, to use this as bargaining power later. Alas, she sleeps with Evan instead, because Evan tells her he’s Quincy. And the shenanigans continue.

You wouldn’t think a movie with this much plot could be this dull, but you’d be wrong. Jamie Foxx, normally a loony presence, is reined-in so thoroughly that he has no more power to annoy or irritate, only to bore. The others are similarly flat, save Peter MacNicol, who I think is just crazy enough, like Christopher Walken, to enjoy anything he does, no matter how lousy.

But none of the characters are believable. They are smart people — career professionals, all of them — who behave like imbeciles at every turn. The film has no honest relationships, and hardly a minute of it feels anything other than contrived.

D+ (1 hr., 25 min.; PG-13, scattered profanity, a bit of sexuality.)