If it isn't "Hannibal" or "15 Minutes," "Heartbreakers" (IMDb listing) continues a recent trend of having incredibly unappetizing people as their heroes. Of course, if those people are Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt, then those evil deeds are a little easier to swallow. Often hilarious and always entertaining, "Heartbreakers" features the perfect mix of sex comedy and sinister agenda, two elements that many a film fails to blend just right.
After cleaning out a criminal named Dean (Ray Liotta) from a fraudulent divorce settlement, mother and daughter con artists Max (Sigourney Weaver) and Page (Jennifer Love Hewitt) hit the road to a resort in Palm Springs for one last score before they go their separate ways. Their target this time is filthy rich tobacco tycoon William B. Tensy (Gene Hackman) who is on his last (phlegmy) breath. Max needs Page's help to entice the old man to marry her, but Page has her own con in place as she tries to win the heart of a gentle bar owner named Jack (Jason Lee). When Dean happens upon the two in the resort, he demands a piece of the con. Page decides to go along with the revised score, but soon finds herself falling in love with the clueless Jack, which puts her steely conscience in jeopardy.
As unlikely a duo as they come, Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt make the perfect mother-daughter team. A bickering pair who only seem to bond over checking accounts, the two actresses dare the audience to accept and enjoy the depths of larceny that each of the characters sinks to. They are truly corrupt women, yet at film's end, you end up not exactly loving them, but tolerating the extent of their crimes.
As usual, Weaver is in fine form, leaving Hewitt's sultry turn as a heartbreaker in training as the break-out performance. Hewitt looks amazing, but more importantly, she completely sheds her "Party of Five" habits and turns up the heat. Beating that, Gene Hackman steals the film away as the cigarette-munching, lung diseased tobacco billionaire. In a rare performance of pure comedy, Hackman shows off an infrequent side to his personality and career that has had him playing everything under the sun. The rest of the cast includes the frenzied Ray Liotta, Anne Bancroft, the amiable Jason Lee, and "Best in Show's" Michael Hitchcock in a cameo as a crybaby momma's boy. Rather unexpectedly, "Heartbreakers" features a wonderful ensemble that sell the tricky material with the confidence needed for success.
Written by Robert Dunn, Paul Guay, and Stephen Mazur, "Heartbreakers" revels in its moral ambiguity, but still remains light fun for the masses. These are the days when we as an audience line up by the millions to watch a convicted homicidal maniac eat a man's brains ("Hannibal"), so when a couple of women choose to marry men solely for the purpose of extracting a divorce settlement days later, we can still love them too. It isn't that great a sin anymore.
It helps that "Heartbreakers" is guided with such a steady hand by director David Mirkin. Four years ago, Mirkin directed the wicked "Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion." An almost perfect blend of sarcasm and silliness, "Romy" carried the goods to the very end. The same can almost be said of Mirkin's "Heartbreakers." Though it becomes saddled with the burden of closure in the final reel, the film as a whole is laced with such a caustic wit that it's impossible to resist. These characters are extremely disagreeable people (with the exception of Jack), and Mirkin manages to juggle all the wicked behavior with healthy doses of black comedy and farce.
Filmfodder Grade: B+