The Break-Up (12A) <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Break-Up is a modest romantic comedy that tries to vary the traditional rom-com rhythm. Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn play, respectively, an art-gallery manager and a cocky Chicago tour-guide who meet at a baseball match in the prologue; their relationship is then whipped through a snapshot montage (holidays, parties, kissy close-ups) that lasts until the end of the opening credits. So the whole movie is actually set on a steep downward slope towards disaffection and the gradual dismantling of their life together. Brooke (Aniston) has become fed up with Gary (Vaughn) taking her for granted, to say nothing of his slobbish domestic habits and his couch-commando obsession with Grand Theft Auto. Time was when she might have been charmed by his reference to Michelangelo's painting of "the 16th chapel", but not any more.

So they argue, in private and in front of their friends, and gradually the mood becomes so acrimonious that they divide their fancy condo into separate zones: she takes the bedroom, he takes the living room. Why don't they just sell up and move on? Because this condo is a covetable property in a prime location, and neither of them is prepared to concede ownership to the other.

Screenwriters Jeremy Garelick and Jay Lavender (good names for a rom-com duo) work up some spiky back-and-forth dialogue, some of it supplemented by the bar-stool improv of Vaughn and his old Swingers partner Jon Favreau, here playing Gary's best friend - both men look a good deal chunkier than they used to. Vincent D'Onofrio as Vaughn's eccentric older brother and Judy Davis as a brittle Edna Mode-ish gallery boss offer pleasing cameos from the sidelines.

It's not a bad movie, but it is misconceived. Once the laughs dry up - and there aren't many to start with - all the movie has left is the bitter Punch-and-Judy of recrimination. Aniston and Vaughn each have one really good speech towards the end, both expressing a belated regret, yet the feeling they invest in it is almost too raw for a romantic comedy. At times, indeed, the movie seems to be less a lament for their relationship than for the condo they're obliged to sell, poisoning the air with that whiff of the mercantile so familiar in Hollywood productions.