`Heart' Attack

A mother-daughter con-artist team makes life difficult - and decidely less extravagant - for unsuspecting men in "Heartbreakers'

March 23, 2001|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Oh, how movie audiences love to see people caught with their pants down, both literally and figuratively.

So "Heartbreakers" has a lot going for it even before the opening credits roll; it allows us to see people de-trousered in both ways. This story of a mother-daughter con-artist team, in which first mom marries their mark, then daughter seduces him (and the ladies split the ensuing considerable divorce settlement), is filled with sexual innuendo, embarrassing situations and enough flimsy negligees and short skirts to fill a Victoria's Secret catalog.

To its credit, "Heartbreakers" lives up to expectations. Almost.

Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt make an impressive duo, both in terms of appearance and ability to connive. As the film opens, Max Conners (Weaver) is in the midst of marrying chop-shop operator Dean Cumanno (Ray Liotta, who gets some great lines as the film's unlikely moral conscience).

It's a lovely ceremony, marred only by the bride's inability to resist flirting with all the male wedding guests. Of course, this irritates Dean, but only momentarily: Soon, he's spiriting his hot-to-trot new wife off to the bridal suite in a hilarious scene that bodes well for the rest of the movie.

Unfortunately, things don't work out as carnally as Dean had hoped, leaving him plenty horny when he reports to work the next morning - and open to the seemingly innocent seductions of his secretary, Wendy (Hewitt, in the first of a series of micro-mini, cleavage-inducing outfits). Lust wins out, mom barges in, the lawyers are called, and soon mom and daughter are counting their bucks.

Only the younger Conners, Page, has bigger things in mind. She wants to go out on her own. Mom isn't ready to cut the apron strings, but after some wrangling and a few legal complications, the two women agree to go their separate ways after one final con.

Enter William B. Tensy (Gene Hackman, whose gift for comedy is sometimes forgotten), a wheezing, hacking, phlegm-producing, filthy rich tobacco magnate. Mom adopts a Russian accent and sets about seducing him into submission, while Page gets ready to play the provocateur one last time.

But unfortunately, Page falls genuinely in love with handsome, too-good-to-be-true bar owner Jack Withrowe (Jason Lee). This is the kind of thing mom's always warned her about; the only way to keep the cons going is to avoid ever having true feelings for a guy.

Page thinks she can handle it - but after a dead body, a phallically impaired statue, an angry ex-husband, an unforeseen car wreck and a bizarre karaoke number, she's not so sure.

If only director David Mirkin ("Romy and Michele's High School Reunion") didn't let things play out too long. Running more than two hours, "Heartbreakers" lasts longer than some of the Conners' gals' marriages. Several sequences bring nothing to the film, including one involving a rich momma's boy, another featuring Nora Dunn as Tensy's long-time housekeeper, and a boat tour of Tensy's Palm Beach-waterfront neighborhood, which might have avoided the cutting-room floor only because it features Hewitt in a bikini.

Weaver, who probably sets a record for most bodices worn in a PG-13 film, has a grand time playing the uninhibited Max. In previous roles, she's strained to appear carefree, but not here. And while it's tempting to say Hewitt lets her cleavage and her legs do all the acting, the truth is she's quite good. She and Weaver work well off each other, and while it may be typecasting, Hewitt makes for a believably petulant young woman.

Granted, she struggles during the moments in which she has to be serious, but perhaps that's the point. After all, this is a woman who hasn't known an honest moment in her life, whose emotions are constantly suppressed.

I'm not saying Hewitt has arrived as an actress, but at least she's found a role suited to her talents - and that's the next best thing.

`Heartbreakers'

Starring Sigourney Weaver, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Gene Hackman

Directed by David Mirkin

Rated PG-13 (sexual situations, language)

Released by MGM

Running time 126 minutes

Sun score: ***

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