Thursday, March 22, 2001
Sigourney Weaver looks fantastic.
That's the strongest impression left by "Heartbreakers," a wannabe-edgy comedy about mother-daughter con artists (Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt) who specialize in seducing wealthy men, then taking them for all they're worth. Viewers will never have a moment's trouble believing that this fiftysomething woman could get any guy her daughter could have.
If only the rest of the film were so easy to accept. Its meandering story has the duo, Max (Weaver) and Page (Hewitt), conning a New Jersey chop shop owner (Ray Liotta), then discovering the IRS is after them. They head for Palm Beach, looking for one big score so they can pay their debts and Page can make enough to strike out on her own. They choose tobacco billionaire William B. Tensy (Gene Hackman) as their target, and Max goes to work. Page would rather find someone younger; however, and eventually sets her sights on an amiable bar owner (Jason Lee). Much to her frustration, she starts to develop actual feelings for him, which takes her focus away from the "job" and toward the unthinkable notion that she might be falling in love.
Clocking in at just more than two hours, "Heartbreakers" takes a LONG time to get moving, with unnecessary scenes and throwaway characters bogging down the action. Director David Mirkin has written for some of the best TV shows of the past 15 years, (including "Newhart," "The Larry Sanders Show" and "The Simpsons"), and you have to wonder how much better this movie could have been if he'd switched jobs with screenwriters Robert Dunn, Paul Guay and Stephen Mazur. He almost certainly could have come up with a better script, and they couldn't have done a much worse job directing.
Most of the dialogue is forgettable, the story is all over the place and too many "funny" scenes consist of people making idiots of themselves in particularly disgusting ways. Things kick into gear in the last 45 minutes or so, when "Heartbreakers" finally becomes the tough, outrageous comedy it only pretends to be up to that point. Basically, the movie's almost over before it really gets good.
The cast helps makes the rest of it bearable, with one notable exception. Weaver and Hewitt may not look much alike, but they nail the love/hate dynamic of their characters' relationship. Weaver's aptitude for playing hard, savvy women is well-known, so the real surprise here is Hewitt, whose roles to date have required mostly that she be very nice and very cute. As it turns out, she has a knack for showing the layer of steel beneath that sweet smile, and it makes Page's discovery of her own vulnerability all the more convincing. Lee and Liotta, a truly off-beat pair of leading men, bring out the best in their co-stars, and vice versa. In fact, the reason the last act of the film is so entertaining is precisely because it sheds its other distractions and focuses on these four individuals.
Then there's the exception: Hackman. Of the many supporting characters in "Heartbreakers," his is the one that receives the most attention. Normally, this would be a wonderful thing (this is Gene Hackman, after all), but Tensy is so thoroughly repulsive, watching him is actually unpleasant and a little embarrassing. It was probably great fun for Hackman to cut loose and play broad physical comedy, but it is anything but fun for the audience. He even drags Weaver down with him a few times ï¿½ particularly in a kissing scene showcasing rotting teeth, cigarette smoke and alarming amounts of phlegm ï¿½ and it's difficult not to cringe during their moments together. It's a terrible waste of one of the world's best actors.
"Heartbreakers" is living proof that a great concept and cast can't be expected to save every movie on their own. With its amateurish script and clumsy direction, this is practically a monument to good ideas gone wrong ï¿½ and Sigourney Weaver's legs.