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HEARTBREAKERS

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Sigourney Weaver, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ray Liotta, Jason Lee, Gene Hackman
Director:  David Mirkin
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  MGM
Features:  See Review
Length:  123 Minutes
Release Date:  October 2, 2001

“Who’s the old bag?”

“His mother.  She lives with him.”

“I’ll pass…mothers are death.”

“Can’t argue that.”

Film ***

Heartbreakers is just what the doctor ordered, and arriving none to soon.  At last, a sex comedy actually aimed at grown-ups. 

I’ve seen enough films targeted to adolescent minds who think body parts, fluids, and noises are funny.  This movie aims at the funny bone, but goes through the brain to do it.  It’s smart enough to be decidedly wicked, and best of all, faithful enough to find the heart as though it were the logical place of conclusion all along instead of some tidy packaging to wrap everything up in.

If you think slipping a laxative into someone’s coffee is the ultimate in wickedness, for example, you might be too young to appreciate the masterful manipulations of Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt as Maxine and Page Conners, a mother-daughter con team who are masters of their game.  Maxine seduces and marries men with money, Page is the catalyst for divorce.  We see their operation unfolding nicely in the opening, as Dean (Liotta), a crass chop-shop owner, becomes unlucky victim number 13.

If you think parents exist in sex comedies just to be made fun of, you may not enjoy the witty, intelligent banter between Maxine and Page, who quibble just like any typical mother and daughter might.  The absurdity of the background against which they perform such a normal act elevates the material and makes it even funnier.

If a school nerd is your best picture of a romantic antagonist, you could be downright appalled at the depths Gene Hackman sinks into as William B. Tensy, a tobacco millionaire hopelessly addicted to his own product.  The man oozes smoke, and coughs and wheezes repulsively.  But he is Maxine’s next intended victim…if she can stand to cross the finish line with him.

Meanwhile, Page, growing restless with her role as assistant, has her own designs on a sweet-but-naïve bar owner (Lee), especially once she learns he has the chance to sell his place for a cool $3 million. 

This becomes yet another source of strife between mother and daughter, as Maxine begins to fear Page is falling in love…the death knell for their kind of con.  Like most mothers, she’s trying to pass on her knowledge to her kid, and grows frustrated as her advice falls on deaf ears.

The dialogue is priceless, especially in scenes where Maxine proves her superiority in the game to her angry daughter.  “Feel my butt!” she boasts.  “I’m not feeling your butt again, Mother,” Page groans.  “We all know it’s perfect.”

What a team are Weaver and Hewitt…not only a lovely pair to look at, but actresses with keen senses of comedy and an almost nonchalant candor about their sexiness.  Every man in the audience will believe these characters really are as good as they come across in their game.  Probably better than half of them would willingly be the next victim, too.

But not enough can be said about Hackman, a brilliant double Oscar winner who comes across as you’ve never seen him before.  He is unafraid to inject Tensy with everything that’s despicable and withhold anything that might induce sympathy.  His speech about nine year old kids loving cigarettes (“after they puke their guts out at first”) is as biting as anything I’ve heard at the movies this year.

Director David Mirkin, who also made the very funny and underrated Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, once again demonstrates an ability to work with a funny and talented pair of women.  Once, he helped create characters that didn’t have a clue.  This time, he works with a pair that’s diabolically smart, but the comedy rolls out just as smoothly as ever.

The laughs didn’t surprise me, but the fact that the film showed a tremendous sense of heart through all its bite did.  And as I mentioned, it doesn’t play as a typical “wrap everything up smoothly” kind of artificial sentimentality.  It works because two ladies who are masters of deceit and manipulation find that love doesn’t have to be a death knell for everything they believe.  They can and do love each other, and learn from one another that love can indeed be beautiful as well as lucrative.

But, of course, money never hurts…

Video ***

This is a generally decent anamorphic offering from MGM, with a couple of flaws worth mentioning.  Darker scenes suffer some loss of definition and a bit of grain, as well as some inability to contain colors as well as they should.  Lighter scenes, of which there are many more, work better, with beautiful color rendering and better detail, though some image enhancement is noticeable from time to time, especially on monochromatic backgrounds in deep focus.  Flesh tones render very well, and the color palate is rich and full, bringing the illusion of warm West Palm Beach to life.

Audio ***

This is mostly a dialogue oriented picture, so the 5.1 soundtrack doesn’t make much use of the rear stage or the .1 channel…they aren’t really missed, either.  Spoken words come across cleanly and clearly, and there are some moments of dynamic range during key sequences of physical comedy.  The real highlight:  the use of John Lennon’s beautiful and underplayed ballad “Oh My Love”.

Features ****

This is an extraordinary package!  Think serious, then funny.  For example, there are two good commentary tracks included.  Track One is director David Mirkin solo…listen to it for all the details, info and trivia you could want to know about the movie.  Track Two features Mirkin with leading ladies Weaver and Hewitt, which is pure entertainment.  There’s giggling, jokes, and tall tales galore…not much info, but a joy to listen to.  Then, there are two featurettes.  One is a straightforward, informative, making-of piece with the usual cast and crew interviews and production stories.  The other is “Laffs and Gaffes”, which mixes bloopers with interview footage discussing the various problems.  It’s a blast, and a much better presentation than your typical outtake reel.

If that weren’t enough, there are 22 deleted scenes, with optional Mirkin commentary.  The prize:  an uncut reel of Weaver’s rendition of “Back in the USSR”.  There is also a trailer for this movie and a DVD promo for the special edition of The Princess Bride.

Summary:

Heartbreakers is funny, sexy, and smart…an appealing and entertaining combination.  You’ll enjoy this DVD for both the movie and the extras.