Imagine if you tossed "Hitch," "Up in the Air" and "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" into a bag, and forced them to mate. The end result would probably end up a bit like "Break Up Man," which is to say a loud, unstable mess that’s a good bit lesser than the sum of its parts.
The Milwaukee Film Festival’s opening night selection – which won the audience award at the German Film Awards – follows the escapades of Paul Voigt, played by co-director Matthias Schweighofer. He’s the charming star employee at a separation agency, where he breaks up couples for those too cowardly or prideful to do it themselves. Like a handsome grim reaper of love, he delivers the bad news along with a polite smile and a cute little box assumably filled with Haagen-Dazs, tissues and a copy of "(500) Days of Summer."
His latest break-up (for his boss’s daughter no less), however, hasn’t quite gone according to plan. His client’s now ex-boyfriend Toto (Milan Peschel) is what some would call a stage five clinger, unable to cope with the bad news and dweebily pattering after Paul with his things and a tree in hand. But thanks to the wonders of contrived screenwriting, Paul loses his driver’s license to the police and needs Toto to drive him around to his upcoming, high-pressure appointments.
Shenanigans ensue, and if the goopy, incessant inspirational pop songs and music are to believed – and they are – a whole lot of heartwarming feel-good too. In fact, in a twist not seen since every road trip movie ever, lovesick Toto and cynic Paul overcome their ideological differences to become the best of chums. Dare I say Paul might even learn something from this big-eyed, life-wrecking rapscallion?
I do dare, something I wish "Break Up Man" did more of.
Much of the reason for choosing the German hit for the festival’s opening night feature was to recapture the magic of last year’s sweetly satisfying opener "Starbuck" (which has been remade into "The Delivery Man," starring Vince Vaughn and coming out this Thanksgiving).
Ken Scott’s film was able to rise above its seemingly lewd story – a man accidentally fathers 533 children after donating a whale’s worth of sperm in his youth – with a dab of freshness and surprising heart. "Break Up Man," however, performs down to the expectations of its conventional plot, a retread of at least 50 other, better movies.
As is the case with almost all comedies, a lot could be forgiven if the film was funnier. But even when the buckshot is flying, the humor in Doron Wisotzky’s screenplay, however, is a little too tame and a little too tired. To make matters worse, a couple of the movie’s bigger set piece moments – a mocking encounter with a raging overweight woman, a threesome with some fantasy lesbians pulled right out of a letter to Penthouse – would be tough to swallow even if they weren’t stale.
The film’s saving graces are Schweighofer and Peschel, both capable and committed performers working with meh material. Peschel especially earns the title of savior. I usually find movies in which dorky klutzes ruin characters’ lives all in the name of friendship and good intentions unbearably painful, but Peschel manages to be both screwy and endearing.
They’re sweet and nice, but unfortunately, "Break Up Man," it’s just not working out. It’s not you; it’s me. Actually, no … it is you. I tried to make it work and convince myself that I was laughing at the tired scenarios (there is one rather inspired take on the classic rom-com marriage interruption). But in the end, I would just be lying to myself. Sorry, but I think we should see other movies.
"Break Up Man": **
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