Foxx and Co. Play by the 'Rules' -- and Lose

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 14, 2004; Page H01

CONTRARY to its name, "Breakin' All the Rules" violates no regulations -- at least not according to the Revised Code of Romantic Comedies (Sophomoric Subgroup). There's even a flatulent, incontinent, alcoholic dog, which I believe is a requirement of the genre these days. Ironically, though, the movie's respect for authority -- or at least convention -- is its undoing.

But before we go any further, I just want to say this: No movie this stupid should need a plot synopsis this complicated. Let's have a go at it anyway.

Jamie Foxx plays Quincy, a magazine editor who gets dragooned by his boss, Philip (Peter MacNicol), into firing his co-workers. Smarting from the clumsy way he himself has just been dumped by his girlfriend, Helen (Bianca Lawson), Quincy decides to use his sudden expertise in the field of public humiliation to write a how-to book on breaking up. It becomes a hit.

Meanwhile, Quincy's playa cousin Evan (Morris Chestnut), fearing that his girl, Nicky (Gabrielle Union), is about to kick him to the curb first, enlists Quincy to assist him in deep-sixing her. At the same time, Philip seeks Quincy's aid in getting rid of his gold-digging squeeze, Rita (Jennifer Esposito). Rita, getting wind of this, and mistaking Evan for Quincy, embarks on an affair with Evan to make Philip jealous. Other instances of mistaken identity and unintended romantic entanglements occur (e.g., between Quincy and Nicky), along with a running gag involving a wizened old man uttering the phrase, "Hold my [bad word for private body part]."

See? It's just like Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," or maybe a frothy French farce by the playwright Feydeau, only as written by the Farrelly brothers.

Don't get me wrong -- it's not all gutter humor. There are even a few ideas floating around in the script by director Daniel Taplitz, such as the notion that love is a kind of insanity involving both narcissism and masochism. "Women," observes Rita, a conniver who winds up getting connived, "don't fall in love with men they can manipulate."

This is the kind of deep thinking you'd expect from a movie that is missing a "g" from the title.

Worst of all, though, is the fact that Foxx seems to have been sedated in preparation for this role. He's the best -- not to mention the most unpredictable -- thing about "Rules," and the last thing you want to do with a comedian like that is to turn him into a law-abiding citizen.

BREAKIN' ALL THE RULES (PG-13, 85 minutes) -- Contains obscenity and sexual and bathroom humor. Area theaters.


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