Screenplay : Robert Dunn, Paul Guay & Stephen Mazur
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2001
Stars : Sigourney Weaver (Max), Jennifer Love Hewitt (Page), Ray Liotta (Dean Cumanno), Jason Lee (Jack), Gene Hackman (William B. Tensy)
In Heartbreakers, Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt play a mother-daughter team of grifters who move from city to city, conning rich men out of their money. It works like this: Max, Weaver's character, seduces the men into marrying her. Then, right after the marriage, Page, Hewitt's character, tempts the weak man into adultery, so Max can be righteously indignant and divorce him on the spot, taking a good chunk of his wealth with her.
Apparently, this has been a successful strategy because Max has been married and divorced 13 times. But, Page is restless. As she is in her early 20s, she is eager to get out on her own. She is confident that she has learned the con well enough from her mother than she can do it by herself. She's tired of small-time scores, such as Max's most recent sham marriage to Dean Cumanno (Ray Liotta), the owner of New Jersey chop shop. But, when it appears that the IRS has closed in on them for back taxes, Page realizes that she needs to pull one last big score before going off on her own.
So where do they go? Page insists they head to Palm Beach, Florida, even though Max resists because she knows everyone down there is very wealthy, and hence, very suspicious. One of the more amusing scenes in the movie shows Max and Page cruising by all the seafront homes, discussing the pros and cons of each of the wealthy, single men whom they can con. One doctor looks good, but he still lives with his mother. A dot-com millionaire seems appetizing, but he is known for "iron-clad prenups," plus he's already surrounded by a bevy of scantily clad young women. "Too much competition" Max declares.
They finally settle on William B. Tensy (Gene Hackman), an ancient, chain-smoking billionaire tobacco tycoon whose worst feature is a toss-up between his nicotine-stained yellow teeth and the hacking cough that can literally knock him and those around him off their feet. Tensy is probably the best advertising campaign ever for not smoking, and Hackman plays him as a wonderfully cantankerous old phlegm-bag who is as willfully clueless about the effects of tobacco as he is about women.
Of course, the story must have a complication, which comes in the form of Jack (Jason Lee), a down-to-earth young restaurant owner who Page tries to con on the side, but ends up falling in love with instead. So, for most of the movie, there are two cons in play, as Max tries to land Tensy at the altar without having to kiss him first and Page tries to do the same with Jack without becoming emotionally involved. And, to make matters more complicated, Dean re-enters their lives and, when he learns the he had been conned, he wants in on the action.
Director David Mirkin (Romy and Michele's High School Reunion) plays freely with the well-worn grifter material, allowing his two leading ladies to do most of the work. Both Weaver and Hewitt play up their sexual appeal to the maximum capacity allowed by a PG-13 movie, which generally involves ultra-low-cut tops, barely-there miniskirts, and plenty of six-inch heels. They make a good pair, and it's not hard to buy into their strained relationship, which is often more professional than it is emotional. Yet, the professionalism is something of a ruse in itself, as Max uses it as an excuse to keep Page under her wing and not allow her to make the same "mistakes" she made as a young woman. Of course, what she calls a "mistake" generally means "relationship" in everyone else's vocabulary. But, as a pro, Max knows that grifters can't be emotionally involved, especially with their targets.
As a comedy, Heartbreakers is often hit and miss, although the hits are much more frequent. There aren't many laugh-out-loud sequences, but the movie as a whole generates a comic rhythm that is easy to sink into. Hackman shines the most in his utterly shameless role as Tensy, complete with red nose, bad wardrobe, and liver spots. He brings the biggest laughs because his role is so unabashedly, but recognizably, grotesque (it may have been too easy a target to make him a tobacco tycoon, but it works). The movie strains the most when it tries to maneuver into more black-comedy territory, such as a prolonged sequence involving Max and Page disposing of a dead body. The whole sequence is never as funny as it's meant to be, mostly because it is so unbelievable (the body falls about 10 stories to the ground, yet they try to set it up like the man had a heart attack in his own home--wouldn't the police notice the multiple bone fractures and crushed skull?).
Of course, Heartbreakers isn't about the details. If you get too bogged down in the reality of what it means to be a professional con artist, it will be impossible to enjoy the comedy. If you want to be wowed by the true intricacies of the con, rent something by David Mamet (my recommendations are House of Games  and The Spanish Prisoner ). Heartbreakers may not aspire to such heights of deviously twisted plotting, but it has its share of set-ups, betrayals, and surprise revelations, and it's just funny and engaging enough to maintain our interest, right down to the last double-cross.
©2001 James Kendrick