'The Break-Up' is a lackluster battle of the exes

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The Break-Up

Where: Theaters everywhere.

When: Opens today.

Rating: Rated PG-13 for sexual content, some nudity and language.

Running time: 106 minutes.

Bottom line: The dissolution of a couple is played for laughs, but not enough emotional connection.

A romantic comedy rises and falls on its screen chemistry, and it's undeniable that there's plenty of chemistry in "The Break-Up."

Yeah, it's great to see Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau, the buddies from their 1996 breakout hit "Swingers," together again. This time the roles are reversed, with Vaughn as the hard-luck guy with relationship issues and Favreau as the overconfident know-it-all dispensing advice. But they are still "money," as they said in "Swingers."

The chemistry between Vaughn and the movie's female star, Jennifer Aniston, is more problematic - not so much because of their performances, but because of the structure of Jeremy Garelick and Jay Lavender's joke-heavy script.

As the title implies, the movie is all about the break-up of a relationship between Chicago art-gallery dealer Brooke (Aniston) and tour-bus guide Gary (Vaughn). It's not a relationship we become invested in, because all we see of it (after an opening in which they meet at a Cubs game) are still photos over the opening credits. All they have invested, it seems, is the opulent condo that becomes the bone of contention when they split.

So there's little chance for screen chemistry when the only scenes Vaughn and Aniston have together involve shouting, bickering and elaborate schemes to get back at each other. First Gary installs a pool table in the dining room. Then Brooke has an a cappella singing group, led by her brother Richard (John Michael Higgins), wake Gary early one morning. And so on.

Aniston and Vaughn are funny separately, when Brooke and Gary go for support from their friends. Brooke chats with her married-with-kids friend Addie (Joey Lauren Adams) and her imperious boss (Judy Davis). Gary commiserates with his brothers, the inarticulate Dennis (Vincent D'Onofrio) and the womanizing Lupus (Cole Hauser), and his bartending buddy Johnny O (Favreau).

Director Peyton Reed ("Down With Love") is so busy distributing laughs to the sprawling supporting cast - I didn't even mention Jason Bateman as the couple's Realtor and Justin Long as a gay receptionist - that he doesn't give Aniston and Vaughn much room to breathe. So much attention is given to keeping Brooke and Gary apart that it's hard for us to care whether they will, or should, get back together.


Contact Sean P. Means at movies@sltrib.com or 801-257-8602. Send comments to livingeditor@sltrib.com.