Lazy Like a Foxx

Breakin' All the Rules packs all the fun of a mediocre sitcom

May 12, 2004 at 4:00 am
If even one of the major networks had a successful sitcom in the vein of Friends but with an all-black cast, movies like Breakin' All the Rules would have no reason for existence. Part of an ever-expanding subgenre that includes The Brothers, Two Can Play That Game and Deliver Us From Eva, Breakin' All the Rules serves very little purpose beyond reminding us that there are black people in the world, and they have love lives as well as decent jobs. When it comes to establishing an actual plot beyond those parameters, little thought appears to have been expended.

Not that white folks don't have their share of silly romantic trifles, often starring the likes of Sandra Bullock or Julia Roberts, but those movies usually have some high-concept gimmick, like a leading man in a coma or a gay husband. Morris Chestnut and Gabrielle Union, on the other hand, who seem perennially stuck in a cinematic holding pattern, always end up portraying smart people with careers who slightly misunderstand each other, leading to somewhat-less-than-wacky misunderstandings.

Jamie Foxx is the ostensible leading man here, playing magazine editor Quincy Watson, who, after being ordered to fire a large number of fellow employees and being dumped by his fiancée ("Everything between us is too right, too easy," she sobs), combines the two notions and devises the perfect handbook for "firing" your significant other. In this movie's world, it is apparently a piece of cake to publish and widely distribute any book idea that strikes one's fancy, so before long Quincy is a mini-celebrity.

That's when things get cuh-ray-zay! Quincy's womanizing best friend Evan (Chestnut) fears that his woman Nicky (Union) is about to break up with him, so he sends Quincy to meet and soften her up prior to a scheduled date. Because Nicky has cut her hair, Quincy doesn't recognize her, but ends up hitting it off with her, all the while dropping enough conversational tidbits to inadvertently reveal his identity as Evan's buddy (she adopts a fake name to fool him). While waiting at Quincy's home, Evan intercepts a phone call from the gold-digging girlfriend (Jennifer Esposito) of Quincy's boss (Peter MacNicol, best known as John Cage on Ally McBeal), who had previously asked Quincy for breakup advice. Thinking that Evan is Quincy, said gold-digger has sex with Evan as an implied quid pro quo for staying away from the boss.

Writer-director Daniel Taplitz seems to be trying to invoke classic screwball with this convoluted setup, but it plays like mediocre sitcom. If even one of the characters were to actually behave like a real person, the jig would be up and the concept ruined. Broad laughs are inserted by way of a pug with faulty excretory mechanisms and a taste for alcohol, and Nicky's day job as a nurse, which requires her to care for lecherous elderly patient Mr. Lynch (Patrick Cranshaw, most recently seen as the similarly horny geezer in Old School).

Once the dorky deception contrivances are more or less settled, there are some funny bits to be had: A scene where Foxx demonstrates to MacNicol exactly how to drain the emotion from one's face is a great use of the former's physical comedy skills, and a later scene between Foxx and Union humorously demonstrates the difference between male and female fantasies. Still, none of these moments are any raunchier than TV could deliver, and the laughs one can extract from this film could easily fit into a half-hour sitcom episode.

MacNicol, at least, is perfectly cast as the dorky boss. Not only does his nasal voice accurately match that of the stereotypical white man impersonated by numerous black comics, but he also shows a fearless willingness to look like a total idiot that is essential for this kind of film (and which no other actor on hand fully displays).

As for star Foxx, few lead actors have had as many wild fluctuations in quality as he, with thoroughly entertaining turns in Any Given Sunday and Ali, but wretched roles in Held Up and Toys. Here, he's surprisingly nondescript, save the overtly conspicuous Whoopi Goldberg-meets-Buckwheat hairdo you've already seen on the poster. In theory, he's the romantic lead, but for much of the film, it probably wouldn't occur to you that he'll end up with any of the female leads. He's never as obnoxious as when he was playing Wanda the Ugly Woman on In Living Color, and he has a fan base that will turn out to see him no matter what, which should guarantee at least modest returns. Union could have said the same at one time, but Deliver Us From Eva eliminated many of us previously devoted fans. This is a slight step in the right direction for her, but picking a project that doesn't involve Chestnut would be a beneficial next step.