[Screen It]

(2001) (Sigourney Weaver, Jennifer Love Hewitt) (PG-13)

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Comedy: A mother and daughter con team run into various complications as they set out to swindle various men and get to their money by having the unsuspecting dupes fall for them.
Max (SIGOURNEY WEAVER) and Page Conners (JENNIFER LOVE HEWITT) are a mother & adult daughter con team who set up various men to fall for and marry the former and then attempt to cheat with the latter, thus creating a generous divorce package. Their latest dupe is Dean Cumanno (RAY LIOTTA), a chop-shop owner who was so smitten with Max that he never saw the con coming.

When the mother and daughter learn that they've been caught by the IRS for tax evasion, they decide they must make a bigger score and thus move to Palm Beach, Florida where Max sets her sights on ailing tobacco billionaire William B. Tensy (GENE HACKMAN) and Page focuses on laidback bar owner Jack Withrowe (JASON LEE) whose establishment sits on some rather valuable property.

Moving in for the financial kill - using techniques taught to Max by her mentor, Barbara (ANNE BANCROFT) - the two women set their individual traps, using their feminine wiles and shapely bodies to mesmerize their potential victims. As they do so, they must contend with various obstacles along the way, including Tensy's observant and scheming housekeeper, Miss Madress (NORA DUNN), and his ailing health; Page eventually falling for Jack; and Dean's eventual reappearance onto the scene, all while knowing full well that few intentions are honorable and instead are bound in potential deceit and trickery.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
Unlike in real life where the general public hasn't really popularized criminal types since the likes of Bonnie and Clyde and Al Capone, the moviegoing public loves such characters even when we dislike, despise or hate them for their actions and behavior. Obviously, no one would embrace the likes of Hannibal Lecter or Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman in "Die Hard") if they were to run into them or have them move in next door. Yet, they're often a great deal of fun to behold from the safe distance of the movie screen or the comfort of one's family room furniture.

Part of the reason behind that stems from such characters' charming personalities that usually offset - to some degree - their otherwise heinous acts. Of course, the lesser the crime, the easier it is to embrace such cinematic creations, particularly when they appear in comedies.

Among the most acceptable types of movie criminals are the con artists, who use their smarts and cunningness - rather than weapons or brute force -- to steal their prey's money or belongings. Since they have to be charming to pull off their various cons, such characters in films like "The Sting" and "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" are usually fun to watch as we often find ourselves, against all better judgment, rooting for them to succeed. That's particularly true when their victims aren't particularly pleasant and/or any higher up the law-abiding ladder than they are.

Such is the case with "Heartbreakers," one of the rare films where the con artists are women rather than men and, in this case, are comprised of a mother and daughter team. A generally amusing and occasionally hilarious but far too lengthy and broad comedy, the picture easily could have been entitled "Lust Brokers." With plenty of curvaceous and buxom bodies appearing in skimpy, revealing and/or formfitting attire, the film benefits from a game cast, some good bits of dialogue and various funny moments, and the fact that it doesn't rein in its multitude of comedic attempts even when few of them are anything special.

As helmed by director David Mirkin ("Romy and Michele's High School Reunion") and written by screenwriters Robert Dunn ("Sweet Lies," "Reborn") and Paul Guay & Stephen Mazur ("Liar, Liar," "The Little Rascals"), the film won't ever be confused as being a classic of the genre, but it's certainly pleasing enough for those who've enjoyed previous "mean" comedy films such as "Ruthless People."

As was the case with that picture, the criminals here - played with zest by Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt -- are highly resourceful, always managing to figure out how to finagle their way out of whatever mess their master plan gets them into. While such moments aren't particularly sophisticated as conceived or executed here, they are often amusing enough to keep the film moving forward and the viewer engaged.

As the pairing, Sigourney Weaver ("Company Man," "Galaxy Quest") and Jennifer Love Hewitt ("Can't Hardly Wait," the "I Know What You Did Last Summer" films) are generally amusing even when the latter's physical assets - that are nearly always on display and seemingly ready to burst forth from her wardrobe that appears a few sizes too small - obviously received more attention than in developing her character.

Weaver, who's enjoying a comedic renaissance of late, gets a bit more of a fleshed out character - no pun intended - and obviously has fun embodying the character. While Hewitt's acting prowess is considerably more limited than her more veteran costar, she's still somewhat enjoyable in the role.

The film falters the most in its misguided attempt at giving the characters some heart and compassion - two things that don't belong in a picture like this - and they come in the form of Max worrying about her daughter's well being and Page inevitably falling for her dupe. Such efforts are a bit too obvious and they diminish the fun mean spiritedness, which is what everyone's come to see and usually makes such films so much fun.

As the three "victims," Gene Hackman ("The Replacements," "The Firm"), Ray Liotta ("Blow," "Hannibal") and Jason Lee ("Almost Famous," "Mumford") are all fine, even if not much more than one-note characters. Lee pretty much has to play the straight man to Hewitt's seemingly neurotic character and thus feels somewhat restrained from the sort of acerbic characters he occasionally plays. Liotta gets the most fun part, doing a comic riff on his "Goodfellas" persona, and elicits some of the film's biggest laughs with his comic overreactions.

The fabulous Hackman plays the main target, a tobacco tycoon whose previous and current smoking is obviously killing him. While he's a blast to watch doing his cantankerous, constantly hacking up a lung bit, it would have been more fun had his character not only been more developed, but also more proactive in the overall story, particularly if he would have discovered the ruse.

That pretty much describes the film's overriding problem. Beyond its running time of a bit more than two hours - which is nearly unheard of for a comedy - the film doesn't contain enough twists and turns, double-crossings or progressively ingenious and/or hilarious cons to satiate those desiring such things.

What's present does work on a broad level and the filmmakers do keep the comedy pedal to the metal, delivering one attempted gag after another, seemingly favoring quantity over quality. It's not a deadly problem as the film nevertheless manages to maintain a near constant level of amusement, but it does prevent the picture from nearing the realm of being a classic.

Featuring a cast whose enthusiasm becomes infectious, some decent laughs and a good, if familiar premise that competently, if unspectacularly delivers the goods, the film might not be special and is pretty much instantly forgettable, but it's funny and entertaining enough to warrant a passing grade. "Heartbreakers" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed March 10, 2001 / Posted March 23, 2001

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