The swirling sick feeling hit me just a few minutes into
"Heartbreakers." Ray Liotta's character was making out with his
secretary when his new wife knocked on the door of his office. While
scrambling to collect himself, he frantically shouted to her, "Just wait
a sex - er, I mean sec!"
I was struck by a wave of revulsion, thinking, "Geez, didn't lines like
that die when 'Three's Company' was canceled?" Over the next few
minutes, as the barely double entendres and lingering cleavage shots
grew more numerous, I realized that the mindset behind "Heartbreakers"
predated "Three's Company." Suddenly, I had an out-of-body experience as
my internal Way-Back machine swept me to the mid-1960s. All across
America, the counter-culture was growing like wildfire, but there was
scant evidence of it on TV. While young people were challenging
traditional values on the streets, frustrated teenagers like me were
stuck at home, sulking while our parents enjoyed the latest Bob Hope
special. Women in skimpy bathing suits would prance onscreen while Hope
made growling noises and leered at their breasts. On another channel,
Dean Martin made wisecracks about "booze and broads" and Peter Lawford,
decked out in love beads and a Nehru jacket, purred suggestive
one-liners as he ogled the go-go dancers.
The adults laughed and laughed.
"Heartbreakers" reeks of that stagnant mentality, from its lingering
shots of Jennifer Love Hewitt's vah-vah-voom breasts to its leaden
screenplay, which paints women as haughty schemers and men as drooling
buffoons too sex-obsessed to realize they are being manipulated. In
addition to Liotta and Hewitt, the cast includes Sigourney Weaver, Gene
Hackman, Jason Lee, Nora Dunn and Anne Bancroft. I can't imagine what
drew performers of their caliber to this project. Perhaps they thought
it was a parody of the sniggering sex comedies of the '60s. If so, they
were sadly mistaken.
The story revolves around a mother-daughter con-team. It opens with the
marriage of Max (Weaver) to Dean (Liotta), a New Jersey chop shop
operator. Having withheld sex until the honeymoon, Max pretends to pass
out on their wedding night. The next morning, she feigns illness,
sending a very horny Dean off to the office, where he ends up in the
arms of his new secretary. Just as the two are about to get overtly
physical, Max bursts into the room and catches them. The "horrified"
bride dissolves the union, garnering a healthy cash settlement along the
way. Of course, the secretary was really her daughter Page (Hewitt) and
the whole thing was a set-up.
The women move on, but an IRS agent (Bancroft) catches up with them and
demands a huge amount of money to cover unpaid taxes. In desperate need
of funds, Max and Page head for Palm Beach to replay the scam. Their
mark this time is William B. Tensy (Hackman, in hideous make-up), a
decrepit tobacco tycoon obsessed with the joys of smoking. Max starts to
put the game into action, but Page is so repelled by the old man (and
angry with her mom) that she slips off to enact her own score, targeting
Jack, a laid back young beach bar owner who is worth a fortune.
Complications arise when Page realizes that good-natured Jack is
stirring actual emotions in her steely little heart. As if that wasn't
enough, Dean reappears on the scene with revenge on his mind.
The attempt to weld a romance onto a caper comedy served only to remind
me of the infinitely superior "A Fish Called Wanda." I won't bother to
compare the two. Suffice to say that everything done right in "Wanda" is
done wrong here. "Heartbreakers" is soulless, inept and, at 123 minutes,
at least a half-hour too long. Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt
throw themselves into their parts, but have nowhere to go with the
metallic characters. Gene Hackman is utterly wasted in a one-note,
one-joke part that has him doing nothing but smoking, coughing and
waxing rhapsodic about smoking and sex. Poor Jason Lee is stuck in the
ingenue role and the normally charismatic actor comes off as merely
bland. Ray Liotta manages to squeeze a tiny bit of humanity and humor
into his walking cliché, but only a bit.
The low point in the film has Weaver employing a Russian accent bad
enough to make Boris and Natasha wince, while doing half-assed slapstick
with a broken off penis from a statue. Bear in mind, though, that this
is merely the worst segment of a movie made up of nothing but low
points. If you remember Bob Hope specials with fondness, this might be
your cup of tea. As for me, I'm going to watch "A Fish Called Wanda" now
and try to forget I ever saw "Heartbreakers."
Copyright © 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott