Conniving women, conned men, convulsive giggles
Need a good laugh? See 'Heartbreakers'
(CNN) -- Movies milking laughter out of the nefarious exploits of grifters and con artists has long been a popular Hollywood formula. Michael Caine and Steve Martin teamed as a couple of guys on the take -- with hilarious results -- in "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" (1988). Robert Redford and Paul Newman added plenty of comic undertones to the dramatic tension of "The Sting" (1973), and Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis scammed their way to safety -- in drag, no less -- in "Some Like It Hot" (1959). And that's just a few.
"Heartbreakers" continues that time-honored tradition. With a cast including Sigourney Weaver, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Gene Hackman, Ray Liotta and Jason Lee, there is no shortage of talent in this comedy. Add director David Mirkin ("Romy and Michele's High School Reunion," 1997), throw in a sharply worded script by Robert Dunn, Paul Guay and Stephen Mazur, and you have film that is clever, witty, and fast-paced -- even if the plot's structure does get absurd at times. However, since this film is a farce, absurdity is allowed ... to a point, anyway.
Two dames on the make
Weaver and Hewitt play mother and daughter, and it's a good match. Exceptionally attractive women, the two appear as if they may have been swimming in the same gene pool. In some scenes, they are so barely covered that you could make an argument to give their chests star billing, too.
Mother and daughter have devised a con that is as brilliant as they are lovely.
Weaver, playing Mama Max, finds the mark and marries him. Then Hewitt, as Page, Max's dutiful daughter (wearing skin-tight, skimpy outfits that would rival anything is Jennifer Lopez's closet) enters the picture disguised as a secretary, maid - whatever -- and seduces said mark. Mama catches them in the act. Horrors! Divorce follows. Big settlement, ka-ching! Next victim, please.
The film's credits open with one of these scams in progress. Ray Liotta, as Dean Cummano, is a low-level New Jersey hood who runs a chop shop for stolen cars. He's fallen under Max's spell and we meet them at their wedding. But when it comes time to consummate the union, Max feigns sleep. Dean goes to his office to clean up some paperwork before the honeymoon. Waiting for him is Page, who's posing as a temporary secretary, and the sexual sitting duck hasn't a chance.
Yep, he's caught with his zipper down, and his marriage vows have barely left his lips. He's scammed. He's toast.
There's just one hitch. Dean is really in love with Max, and sincerely wants to make their relationship work. Unaware he's been had, he follows her to Florida.
Off to Florida
At this point the seeds are planted for some wonderful surprises that flower later in the script and provide a series of great twists and turns.
After fleeing Jersey, the twosome's next stop is Palm Beach, where rich old men are ripe for the duo's picking -- if they can catch them before they drop dead.
Feeling the need for one final big score, Max takes aim at cigarette tycoon William B. Tensy (Hackman), who smokes like a chimney, has one foot in the grave and continues plotting ways to get new victims hooked on his cigarettes. In one scene he gleefully brags to Max, "Smoking is part of the fun of being a kid. We just did some test on some 9-year-olds. After a little puking, you couldn't drag them away from the stuff."
Sick? Yes. But in the hands of a hacking Hackman, the scene is hilarious.
In the middle of all this Page falls in love with another mark, a guy named Jack. Portrayed by Lee, Jack is a sweet-natured guy who has inherited property worth $3 million. Page has him all set up for the fall, but commits the grifter's cardinal sin -- she gets emotionally involved with her mark.
The stage is set. Max struggles mightily to seduce Tensy, despite his bad breath, brown teeth and a never-ending wheezy cough. Page fights with her newly discovered emotional feelings for Jack. Then, out of the blue, Dean shows up.
The family that scams together ...
He soon discovers their scam. "Do you have any idea how much therapy you people need?" he asks. But, once is surprise subsides, Dean is not above joining in. After all, he wants his bogus divorce settlement back; helping con Tensy will do the trick.
Things now kick into high gear, with double crosses, a body and nothing - and no one - necessarily turning out to be quite what they appeared.
Weaver proves again that she is blessed with excellent comic timing (Remember "Ghostbusters," 1984?) Hewitt is finally showing some promise beyond "teen scream" flicks, and Liotta's somewhat quirky delivery works for him in his wise-guy role.
Hackman? Fuhgeddaboutit. He's an American acting icon -- as usual.
At more than two hours, "Heartbreakers" is way too long for a comedy. Also, in a world of automatic marriage prenuptials, the film's premise is a bit dated.
But it is great escapist fun. The one-liners are as light as air, even though you may forget them halfway out of the theater. But no matter: You'll enjoy the ride while you're inside.
"Heartbreakers" opens nationwide on Friday. Rated PG-13. 123 minutes.
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