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Breaking Up

Breaking up is hard to do, and it's even harder to watch in this trivial relationship comedy about two selfish, boring people who shouldn't have been together in the first place. Russell Crowe and Salma Hayek make attractive leads, but they have neither the marquee power nor the requisite chemistry to keep "Breaking Up" from getting left at the altar of general distribution.

With:
Steve ..... Russell Crowe Monica ..... Salma Hayek

Breaking up is hard to do, and it’s even harder to watch in this trivial relationship comedy about two selfish, boring people who shouldn’t have been together in the first place. Russell Crowe and Salma Hayek make attractive leads, but they have neither the marquee power nor the requisite chemistry to keep “Breaking Up” from getting left at the altar of general distribution. Pic won’t compete with glossier product, and it’s too stolidly middlebrow to attract arthouse exhibs or auds. You can bet the sexy vid box is already designed.

Pic plays like a stagebound two-hander, with schoolteacher Monica (Hayek) and food photographer Steve (Crowe) often facing the camera to explain the ups and downs of their brief, if too attenuated, romance. (Other cast members simply walk on while topliners do all the talking.) We don’t see many ups in the two-plus years’ worth of flashbacks. Saga consists mostly of variations on the same tiff (“You don’t understand me!”) followed by long segs of principals sitting by the phone, each hoping the other will ring. This is the stuff most viewers want edited out of their own lives, and helmer Robert Greenwald’s languid pacing doesn’t offer many rewards for the wait. Likewise, scripter Michael Cristofer (who also penned “Falling in Love”) throws no new light on this most familiar wrinkle in the annals of l’amour.

Naturally, the tryst begins on a high. “When it starts that good,” one of them says of the fiery ignition, “there’s nowhere for it to go but bad.” Which is pretty much the trajectory of the whole movie. Hot sex, apparently, is what keeps them coming back for more (not that there’s much evidence onscreen), but what’s in it for auds?

These urban nobodies have few clever or insightful things to say; nothing at all is made of their jobs or backgrounds; and the parts don’t seem especially tailored to the actors. (Hayek mined similar material to much better effect in “Fools Rush In.”) Crowe is at an additional disadvantage having to keep his Aussie accent buried under a standard New Yawk grumble. Result is generic without hitting universals the filmmakers must have hoped for.

But there are bright spots, particularly the standard going-out-with-others sequence, which — instead of the usual dates-from-hell montage — consists of seamless dollying back and forth between two tables at what looks like the same cafe. Other pluses are Mark Mothersbaugh’s jazzy, vibes-fueled score and Mauro Flore’s fluid, color-rich lensing, which makes the most of cramped confines.

Breaking Up

Production: A Warner Brothers presentation of a New Regency production. Produced by Robert Greenwald, George Moffly. Executive producer, Arnon Milchan, David Matalon. Directed by Robert Greenwald. Screenplay, Michael Cristofer

Crew: Camera, Mauro Flore; editor, Suzanne Hines; music, Mark Mothersbaugh; production design, Terrence Foster; set decoration, Karen E. Burnett; costume design, Kelly Vitric; sound, Felipe Borrero; assistant director, Cas Donovan; casting, Ronnie Yeskel. Reviewed at Seattle Film Festival, June 4, 1996. Running time: 90 MIN

With: Steve ..... Russell Crowe Monica ..... Salma Hayek

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