Chop shop owner Dean Cumanno (Ray Liotta) never knew what hit him. One day he’s marrying the woman of his dreams, the next day he’s giving her $300,000 in a quickie divorce settlement. That’s what happens when you get caught the day after your wedding having sex with your secretary.

heartbreakers photo.JPG (78587 bytes)What poor, sweet, trusting Dean doesn’t know is that his new bride and secretary are actually a mother-daughter con team who have just played him to the tune of $300,000. Unfortunately, they took much more than his money. They stole his heart, leaving him miserable. Forget a woman scorned. There’s nothing worse than a Jersey chop shop owner whose heart has been ripped out in front of his friends and family.

The con is on in “Heartbreakers,” an amusing comedy that reminded me a lot of those wonderful caper movies of the 1960s like “Charade” and “How To Steal a Million.” Director David Mirkin, whose last film “Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion” was one big smile after another, has made a film that plays well as both a caper and a comedy.

Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt are wonderfully engaging as the mother/daughter con team of Max and Page Conners. Max is the seasoned pro who constantly reminds daughter Page that she’s too young to go off on her own. Max needs Page. Even though she’s still a knockout, Max understands that her days as the ingĂ©nue are slowly coming to an end.

Their current con finds Max marrying wealthy guys, and then sending Page in to lead them into temptation. As “Heartbreakers” opens, Max and Page have just taken Dean, a noble man despite his line of work. Page informs Max that Dean was their last con as a team, and wants to break out on her own. Her dream is put on hold when Max and Page learn that their life’s savings have been seized by the IRS, leaving them just 90 days to come up with the remainder of the penalties. That means a quick con.

Enter Palm Beach tobacco billionaire William B. Tensy (Gene Hackman), whose hack is just as big as his bank account. Max sees Tensy as the perfect mark, while Page sets her sites on handsome Jack Withrowe (Jason Lee), whose tropical, family-owned bar sits on $3 million worth of property. The race is on to see who will make the big score first, but when it comes to affairs of the heart, can these women be expected to do the wrong thing?

The screenplay by Robert Dunn, Paul Guay, and Stephen Mazur (Guay and Mazur wrote “Liar! Liar!”) is rich in laughs and plotting. Nothing is what it seems, and there’s always something going on.

Like the poor dupes in the film, we never know if we’re being conned. We just go along for the ride, and what a wild ride it is. There are many unexpected moments and numerous plot twists that keep on your toes. The script is smart, with sharp dialogue, vivid characters and a playful but occasionally dark sense of humor.

The only way to make the ladies likeable is to make the men in their lives worthy of their con, and the writers have done an excellent job of making the male characters more than just one- dimensional victims. Liotta is a scream as Dean, who doesn’t let a broken heart keep him from tracking Max down in order to sweep her off her feet again. His heartfelt proposal in a Palm Beach hotel lobby is hysterical.

Hackman is fall down funny as the tobacco tycoon who is so rich he feels he doesn’t have to live by the rules. Hackman, doing his best W.C. Fields, left me in stitches every time his character coughed up a lung. It’s a running gag that only gets funnier. I also liked Jason Lee’s Jack, the one true innocent in the film. Lee perfectly conveys the spirit of a man who believes in true love.

There’s real strength in Sigourney Weaver’s Max, who knows what she wants and never allows her personal feelings to get in the way of obtaining it. Weaver’s perfect mix of pathos and comedy turn Max into a woman we can root for. Hewitt, much more mature here than in her teen scream roles, shows uncommon depth as Page. Her interior dialogue is just as revealing as her exterior one.

Films like “Heartbreakers” are tough to pull off. It takes a skilled director who knows when to pull back when either the comedy or the caper gets too thick. Mirkin keeps everything light and breezy. He finds humor is some of the most unexpected places, and even when he goes for the obvious, he does so with such conviction that we forgive him.

On the technical side, “Heartbreakers” is just as delicious as the confection in front of the camera. The film benefits from colorful cinematography, and a bouncy, jazzy musical score by John Debney that reminded me of the late Henry Mancini. The Palm Beach location is the perfect backdrop for this high stakes con game.

I wish there were more movies like “Heartbreakers.” It’s not as detailed nor as grand as “The Sting,” but at least you won’t feel like you’ve been conned out of your ticket money.


Mother and daughter con team are real Heartbreakers


Sigourney Weaver, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ray Liotta, Gene Hackman, Jason Lee, Nora Dunn. Directed by David Mirkin. Rated PG-13.


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