Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston — who've hooked up in real life, for those of you who haven't gone through a grocery-store checkout line lately — each have more than enough presence and comic timing to sustain the movie.
But together their characters are so vastly different, it's hard to believe they'd be compatible long enough to sustain a two-year relationship and share a Chicago condo.
As Gary Grobowski, the fast-talking tour guide on a double-decker bus, he's an infinitely fun guy. The protracted riffs from Vaughn, who shares a story-by credit, are some of the film's strongest parts; once again, he's functioning as the figure we've come to know and love from "Swingers" and "Old School" and "Wedding Crashers" on cue. But he's also incorrigibly selfish with his nonstop "SportsCenter" and video games.
Meanwhile, Aniston's Brooke Meyers comes off as a shrill nag. A stylish and sophisticated art gallery manager, she's constantly trying to drag him to the ballet. And it's not that she wants him to do the dishes, but rather she wants him to want to do the dishes. (To which he responds, "Why would I want to do the dishes?" It's a legitimate question.)
So when they break up, which happens pretty early in this self-professed "anti-romantic comedy," it doesn't seem tragic. It just makes sense.
But where do you go for the next hour and a half?
From there, director Peyton Reed and first-time screenwriters Jeremy Garelick and Jay Lavender have pretty much remade "The War of the Roses," only they've watered it down. Once Brooke dumps Gary after a painfully awkward family dinner party, neither is willing to leave the apartment, and each tries to drive the other out.
But their game of one-upmanship, in which she throws his clothes into the hallway to the tune of Alanis Morissette's blaring "You Oughta Know" and he invites strippers over for poker, cigars and lap dances with his buddies, never sinks to the level of vitriolic meanness that Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas achieved. You always have the sense that they're merely toying with each other, and that at any moment they could take it all back and kiss and make up.
Peyton Reed, who also directed "Bring It On" and the obnoxiously over-the-top "Down With Love," shows comparative restraint here at a time when perhaps he should have just gone for it.
Thankfully there are some people in "The Break-Up" who do just that. They are the members of the weirdly eclectic, wildly talented supporting cast.
Vincent D'Onofrio breathes life into what could have been a forgettable, cardboard character as one of Gary's brothers, who share the Chicago tour-bus business. Then again, he's good in everything, and with his jerky, nervous delivery, you never know what to expect — but you know you want to watch and find out.
Judy Davis, meanwhile, is dazzling as Marilyn Dean, the owner of the gallery where Brooke works: an arrogant, brittle, capricious diva with a thing for much younger men who refers to herself in the third person as "M.D."
And of course there's longtime Vaughn pal Jon Favreau, once again playing his best friend, a South Side bar owner. But here their roles from "Swingers" are reversed: Favreau is the know-it-all giving ridiculous advice and Vaughn is the one who's lovelorn and confused. It's a refreshing take on some familiar territory, and by now they have so much chemistry, it's easy to believe that they're great friends and regular guys.
Along those lines, it is sort of awesome that Vaughn is willing to rip off his polyester shirt and storm out of the bowling alley when Brooke and the rest of his friends kick him off the couples team on league night. He's not exactly Brad Pitt in "Fight Club." And you've got to love that about him.
By Christy Lemire