What’s this? An actual comedy made by actual adults for actual adults that is actually fresh and funny? Amazing but true. Even more amazing is the fact that the film’s scripting pedigree is uninspiring to say the least. Top-billed writer Robert Dunn hasn’t had a screenwriting credit since 1988 (Sweet Lies), while his cohorts in this endeavor, Paul Guay and Stephen Mazur, can be held accountable for Liar, Liar and The Little Rascals — either of which ought to earn them hard time in a federal penitentiary. Somehow or other, though, they’ve cooked up this delightfully clever comedy concerning a pair of mother-daughter con artists, Max (Sigourney Weaver) and Page (Jennifer Love Hewitt), whose modus operandi involves mom marrying wealthy men, who are then put into compromising positions by the daughter, resulting in hefty divorce settlements. While this is little more than a serviceable premise, Heartbreakers manages to make it work by the creation of engaging characters and amusingly outrageous situations. The first few minutes of the film — despite being blessed with a great Danny Elfman theme — meander just a bit and tend to veer toward the lower echelons of the leering joke, but once the film is underway all this changes, and it’s not hard to see why. Unlike most modern comedies, Heartbreakers deals with characters rather than caricatures and it only hits its stride once those characters are fully established. By the time battling mother and daughter hit Palm Beach on the hunt for a new victim — one last tandem con before going their separate ways — the film has a full head of steam and never falters. The object of their scam turns out to be a chain-smoking, endlessly coughing (“What is he? The biggest producer of phlegm in North America?”) tobacco billionaire William B. Tensy (played to perfection by Gene Hackman), who almost immediately falls for Weaver’s transparently bogus Russian temptress impersonation. So besotted and credulous is Tensy that he doesn’t even question Max’s choice of “Back in the USSR” as a traditional song when she’s called upon to sing with the orchestra at his favorite Russian restaurant. (Weaver’s handling of this bit alone is worth the price of admission.) Even so, things are far from smooth sailing for Max and Page, owing to complication after complication — including, but not limited to, the arrival of their last victim (Ray Liotta), who is still in love with Max; the treachery of Max’s old mentor (Anne Bancroft); and Page falling in love with a more or less average guy (Jason Lee). It’s all very pleasantly and cleverly accomplished with the script’s dark humor (of which there is an abundance), nicely balanced by the ever-evolving obvious humanity of the principal characters. By the end of the film, everyone is pretty likable, but not to the degree that it becomes cloying. Max and Page might actually have hearts and fall in love after all, but you just know that they’re never going to pass up the opportunity for a free meal at a restaurant with the aid of some broken glass in the salad or the best suite in the best hotel via a cleverly engineered fall. Director David Mirkin has a fine feel for comedic timing and manages to get the most out of the film’s glitzy Palm Beach locations. Indeed, his only failing is a certain slipshod quality in matching shots. All too often the film’s close-shots jar with the establishing shots, while at other times there’s an inconsistency in exposure from shot to shot. This doesn’t harm the film to any great degree, but it is distracting. Regardless, Heartbreakers is a winner for anyone who wants a polished, nonadolescent comedy.
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