Break-Up, The: Wannabe Raucous Comedy, Starring Jennifer Anniston and Vince Vaughn

This may be futile, but let’s try a three-rule exercise.

1. Disregard the over-hype about the onscreen chemistry between Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston in their new summer comedy, “The Break-Up,” because there’s not much evidence of it in the picture.

2. Disregard the over-hype about their off screen love affair, which has been all over the news, though, being the third couple (following Cruise and Holmes, Pitt and Jolie) this year alone, you may be tired of the coverage.

3. Finally, disregard Universal’s deceptive and desperate marketing of “Break-Up” as a raucous comedy and date movie. Poorly scripted by Jeremy Garelick and Jay Lavender and rudimentarily directed by Peyton Reed, “The Break-Up” is one of the least appetizing divorce comedies to be seen in years.

Clinging to their marketing hook, the studio’s honchos depict it as an anti-romantic comedy that steers clear of clichs. But for me, “Break-Up” is anti-comedy, anti-charm, and anti-stars.

Consider Aniston as a movie star. Can any actress survive so many commercial failures (most recently “Derailed” and “Rumor Has It”) and still be a viable leading lady Cute and perky, but not particularly beautiful or charismatic to command the big screen, Aniston was always better as part of an ensemble (TV’s “Friends”) or in small indie movies, such as “The Good Girl” and “Friends With Money.” in which she played misfits and working-class women much more convincingly that glamorous rich girls.

Looks and charm aside, Aniston can’t act much and her repertoire of gestures and expressions is rather limited. Aniston is quickly and dangerously becoming the Demi Moore of Hollywood right now, a minor actress who gets jobs by sheer ambition and get them done by sheer will power. Question is, can she last as long as Moore

Representing a totally different breed of comedian and far more talented, Vaughn can shine in the right vehicle, as he did last summer in “The Wedding Crashers,” and he’s also adept at playing both lead and secondary character roles (ironically as Brad Pitt’s best friend in “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”). In “Break-Up, Vaughn gets credits as producer and initiator of the project; for better or worse (I think the latter) the idea is his.

Deceptively sold to the public as original and boisterous comedy, “The Break-Up” is neither nor. The filmmakers pretend as if they’re inventing a new sub-genre, disregarding movie history and such terrific break-up comedies as the rude, nasty and funny, “The War of the Roses,” with Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner, and Albert Brooks’ brilliant “Modern Romance,” which just came out on DVD. In execution, this “Break-Up” recalls “The Story of Us,” one of Bob Reiner’s worst movies, starring Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer as the splitting couple.

On paper, “The Break-Up” is meant to be an unconventional romantic comedy that follows the often comical and sometimes painful journey of a couple into the unraveling and deconstruction of a once solid and loving relationship.

Vaughn and Aniston star as Gary Grobowski and Brooke Meyerson, a couple who let a seemingly small argument escalate out of control to the point where suddenly they find themselvesafter spending two years togetherconfronted with the choice between love and loss.

Following the conventions of such fare, their first encounter is cute, if also cheap (literally). They meet at a baseball game, when Gary’s Chicago tour guide persuades Brooke’s art gallery employee to dump her companion and go out with him. He does it by buying her a hot dog! (hence the above word cheap)

The twist in this story is that the once happy couple stand firmly their ground, refusing to move out of the condo they’ve shared and showered with attention, thus leading to an all-out war-call it the War of the Exes.

Fortunately, the central self-absorbed and uninteresting couple is surrounded by a brilliant supporting cast of friends and family members that enliven the flat and irritating saga through their “helpful advice.”

On Gary’s side are his best buddy Johnny O (Vaughn’s frequent collaborator Jon Favraeu), his level-headed realtor Riggelman (Jason Bateman); and his brothers and business partners, quirky workaholic Dennis (Vincent D’Onofrio) and self-styled, super-suave Lupus (Cole Hauser).

Advising Brooke is her stable sounding board Addie (indie actor Joey Lauren Adams); Addie’s settled-down, domesticated husband Andrew (Peter Billingsley); Brooke’s flamboyant but not gay brother Richard (John Michael Higgins), who delights in his all-male a cappela group The Tone Rangers; her well-meaning mom (Ann-Margret); and her oddball co-workers, fabulous and fearsome gallery owner Marilyn Dean (Judy Davis) and wide-eyed receptionist Christopher (Justin Long).

Following the well intended, but often misguided advice from their collection of advisors, Gary and Brooke experiment with a series of schemes designed to either push the other partner away, or win him/her back. Since the end result is predictable, there is not much tension or mystery.

Hence, we go through the plodding motions that the couple take on each other, while learning some life lessons along the way, primary among which is that, in matters of the heart, winning does not come from being the last one standing, but from learning when to put the gloves down. The wit of the entire comedy has the depth of a Chinese fortune cookie.

It would have been helpful if the writers and director Peyton Reed had been more concerned with constructing sympathetic or appealing characters worth watching and listening to for 100 minutes. But in the end we feel cheated, since the outcome is predictable and so are the manufactured obstacles along the way.

Not a particularly cerebral or deep director, Reed had nonetheless helmed the bubbly comedy-romance “Down With Love,” starring Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor, and the cheerleading comedy “Bring It Own,” a guilty pleasure and cult classic among some teenagers. But in “Break-Up,” trying to compensate for the boring situation of endless bickering with a glitzy style, Reed makes the yarn’s weaknesses all the more visible.

In the press notes, Reed observes: “What appealed to me about the script is that you’re not watching a romance bloom; you’re watching it die. A break-up is actually more universal than a romance that’s working instantly.” Granted. But what does it have to do with his crappy and unfunny comedy.