Jamie Foxx stars as a best-selling self-help author in "Breakin' All the Rules," a mid-season forgettable that with any luck will disappear quickly. As Quincy, a magazine editor who turns a painful breakup into a million-dollar advice book on how to leave your lover properly (one example: the passive-aggressive bullet straight to the head), Foxx displays none of the talent he did in, say, "Any Given Sunday" or the "In Living Color" series.
This is not entirely his fault. Written by Daniel Taplitz, "Breakin' All the Rules" has the frantic, jumbled quality of so many formulaic first-time efforts (Taplitz also makes his directorial debut here, and a sorry one it is). It also sounds as if it were recorded in a high school bathroom. Between a volume level that seems to be permanently set at 11, the unintelligible dialogue and the clanging echoes behind every indoor scene, it's impossible to know whether what's being said is funny. Instead, viewers must rely on lame sight gags such as an incontinent pug, a randy old man and some painfully forced physical slapstick to indicate that a joke is in process.
It's too bad because, at least on the basis of casting, "Breakin' All the Rules" had the potential to be a minor classic on a par with "Love Jones" or "Brown Sugar." Those films might have possessed modest artistic merit, but they made valuable contributions to the rare genre of the romantic comedy geared toward young, professional African Americans. Here, Foxx shares the screen with such promising talents as Morris Chestnut (who plays Quincy's game-playing cousin, Evan) and Gabrielle Union; both are surpassingly attractive actors whose warmth and intelligence suggest they're much better than the material they've been given to work with.
Jennifer Esposito and Peter MacNicol -- resembling a cross between Jack Benny and the Watergate-era John Dean -- round out the cast in a film that aspires to the round-robin sexual farce of the great 1930s screwball comedies but that instead just goes round and round to an utterly predictable end. MacNicol, as Quincy's hapless boss, gets some comic licks in, especially in a ludicrous fight scene near the end. But that's a rare moment of levity in a movie that sags and drags under the weight of poor pacing, execrable writing and largely unlikable characters, including a leading man viewers can never really warm up to. And as even the most iconoclastic filmmaker will tell you, in Hollywood, that last rule is one that can never be broken.
Breakin' All the Rules (85 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for sexual material/humor and language.