by Marty Demarest

If any art can capture charisma, it's film. And if the pleasures of cinema are sometimes shallow because of it, it's still the only artistic medium that can give us the pleasure of doing nothing more important than watching someone who is absolutely fascinating.

In the case of Breaking All the Rules, there are two fascinating people: Jamie Foxx and Gabrielle Union. Foxx is perhaps best known as a comedian (TV's In Living Color), though he has made a few serious films lately (Ali and Any Given Sunday). Gabrielle Union, though she's been in things like Bad Boys II, doesn't need to be known for anything other than being gorgeous.

Breakin' All the Rules at least doesn't distract us with a meaningful story. Quincy (Foxx) is called in by his boss at the film's beginning to put together a guide for firing people. Then, left with doing the job himself, he adds his own name to the list, and takes off. Of course, there would be no romance in the romantic comedy this movie tries to be unless something happens on that front. And wouldn't you know it, early in the movie, Quincy gets dumped by his fianc & eacute;e.

So far, so blah. But even in these opening moments, Foxx shows that his time spent in heavier films hasn't been wasted. Instead of mugging his way though the jokes, he treats them like an actor, taking his comedy seriously. This serves him well when he next appears atop the movie's mess, having written a book that tells people how to end their bad relationships. Instead of an emotional wreck, Foxx transitions Quincy into an insightful, empathetic person. "It's less cruel than a bad relationship," he says simply about his book's subject. And because of it, he can't get a date.

Until he meets Nicky (Union), the girlfriend of his cousin. The plot drives right off the road of reality to bring these two together, and the rest of the movie is little more than romantic moments mixed with unfunny jokes. Pay no attention to these. Union, who could just smile and say her lines to the camera, actually has the savvy to act when scenes need it, and to be quiet during the rest (particularly during too many jokes involving a dirty old man). She's cool, and it suits her. During one of their dates, Quincy holds Nicky's head up to the light, just admiring her. It's a good symbol of what this movie does best.

But, yes, this is a comedy, and that fact keeps rearing its ugly head. Each scene begins with a slapstick sequence (the dog pees, the guy falls, then answers the phone backwards, ha ha) before settling down. It's distracting -- and irritating -- you forget all about it when Foxx and Union get together. And that's OK, because "the movies" shouldn't be so pretentious that we can't lose ourselves from time to time in the shallow pleasures of basking in the presence of wonderful people.

Publication date: 05/20/04

Witness to Wartime: The Painted Diary of Takuichi Fujii @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through May 16
  • or