THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


It's common wisdom that, in Hollywood, movies are often described as being hybrids of other movies. Sometimes, just for fun, I like to try to make up my own hybrids for movies I see. The comedy Heartbreakers, for instance, would accurately be described as "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels meets Anywhere But Here." The problem with that little game is that it assumes movies have no originality, which Heartbreakers certainly does. Why beat around the bush? This is one of the funniest comedies to hit the big screen in a long time.

Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt play the appropriately named Max and Page Conners, a mother/daughter con artist team. Max seduces wealthy men and convinces them to marry her. Then Page shows up, hot and tempting in her short, low-cut dresses. Just when the poor sap is caught up in a moment of lust with Page, in walks Max, allegedly horrified to find her new husband in the arms of another woman. This leads, of course, to the lawyers, who arrange a "proper" divorce settlement. The first guy we see them scam is Dean Cumanno (Ray Liotta). After absconding with his money, Page wants to go her own separate way. Max gets her to agree to one more con - a big one. Page agrees, so long as they do it in Key West where all the really rich men live.

Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt use their brains and their bodies to con Jason Lee and Ray Liotta in Heartbreakers
After surveying a variety of potential victims, they settle on William B. Tensy (Gene Hackman), an aging and sickly former tobacco executive. Max moves in for the kill while Page decides to pull a side scam on her own. She discovers a local club owner, Jack Withrowe (Jason Lee), who has just been offered $3 million for his land. Page puts on her bikini, scrambles the guy's brains...and slowly starts to fall in love with him. That, says her mother, is the biggest no-no in the business. For his part, Tensy turns out to be a real pervert, a horny old coot who can hardly keep his paws off Max. Unfortunately for her, he's also pretty gross. Years of smoking have ruined his lungs, leaving him with a hacking, phlegmy cough. When Max goes to kiss him, he promptly coughs in her face. Using the same sex appeal she passed on to her daughter, Max indeed gets Tensy to propose. What happens next, I'm not telling.

What I can talk about is how funny the movie is. The screenplay by Robert Dunn, Paul Guay and Stephen Mazur is jam-packed with witty lines of dialogue and inspired moments of lunacy. For instance, there is a great running gag about an expensive statue of a nude male. Max accidentally outbids Tensy for it at auction. To avoid actually having to pay for the blasted thing, she makes sure its member gets broken off by a delivery man. Tensy eventually gets it repaired for her, and the way that scene plays out doubled me over with laughter. I also laughed at Max's method of paying for dinner in a fancy restaurant; she slips broken glass into her food and complains to the manager. Additionally, there are many farcical moments as the women attempt to pull off their sexy cons, only to be foiled by the return of Dean, or Tensy's pesky housekeeper (Nora Dunn) who is waiting for him to kick off she she can collect an inheritance.

As funny as Heartbreakers is (and it's extremely funny), it also works as a mother/daughter story. The film takes the relationship between Max and Page seriously. Max wants to keep her daughter "safe" from the world, even if that means clipping her wings. Page just wants to break free, to make it on her own. To the movie's credit, it makes sure she doesn't know it all. Those youthful mistakes make Page a charming character. Weaver and Hewitt make a superb couple, playing off each other's timing with expert precision. They also make the characters real. Even if they were not con artists, these women would be working through the same issues.

Now I must save a paragraph just for Gene Hackman. The actor, who has had a long and distinguished career, gives a performance of comedic brilliance. Reportedly basing his characterization on W.C. Fields, Hackman steals every scene he's in. Tensy is horny, he's crotchety, he's foul, and he's a complete and total boor. With a nose full of gin blossoms and a cough that sounds like someone choking a duck, he is truly offensive. And you love every single second he's on screen. I hope and pray the Academy will remember this performance at next year's Oscars. Hackman alone is worth the ticket price.

I have always loved the genre of con artist movies. By nature, they have to be smart. Cons don't work unless the con artist is intelligent enough to pull them off. Heartbreakers is smart in the way it portrays its relationships as well as the way it unfolds its scams. This is a good, good movie filled with wall-to-wall laughs.

( 1/2 out of four)

Heartbreakers is rated PG-13 for sex related content including dialogue. The running time is 2 hours and 3 minutes.
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