Max and Page, the mother-daughter con artists who are meant to be so charmingly amoral in Heartbreakers, operate as tag-team vixens. Tall and imperial Max (Sigourney Weaver), a mistress of disguise, will manipulate a hormone-driven sap, like the New Jersey chop-shop entrepreneur Dean Cumanno (Ray Liotta), into marrying her, in no small part by withholding bedroom favors. The moment the knot gets tied, Page (Jennifer Love Hewitt), a fresh-faced sex bunny, shows up to seduce the new groom out of his pants and his wedding vows. A speedy and lucrative divorce settlement inevitably follows.
This vicious feminine hustle sounds like a canny arrangement, and so it’s appropriate that the two actresses are nothing if not fetching in their vengeful-minx glee. Weaver, by now, has taken on these sorts of aristocratic-bitch roles once too often, but the light of her comic contempt remains undiminished. In Heartbreakers, she’s at her best when Max, pretending to be some sort of Russian temptress, is wooing the grotesque, walking-corpse cigarette tycoon William B. Tensy (Gene Hackman), whose hacking cough could rattle the plaster off walls. Weaver makes herself as old-world ”romantic” as Anna Karenina, but she also performs a triumphant balalaika-band version of ”Back in the USSR.” The perky Love Hewitt is a more limited actress, but her live-party-doll look, all sharp teenybop angles set off by that voluptuous bosom (strutting her bod in skin-tight minidresses and platform heels, she looks ready to take on the role of Playboy’s Little Annie Fanny), has never been put to better use.
That said, Heartbreakers is, at best, a half-hearted mercenary farce. Game as the actresses are, you can feel the movie slipping into the wrong gear the moment that Page starts to bicker with her mother about how she’s old enough to go out on her own. This coming-of-age conflict belongs in a different movie, and it dilutes what should have been a far trickier series of schemes and deceptions. Jason Lee, looking as scrubbed here as he did rock-god sleazy in Almost Famous, shows up as a laid-back beach-bar owner who falls in love with Page, unaware that she’s trying to bilk him out of the $3 million he’s been offered for his property. Lee, as an actor, is a slacker Jekyll and Hyde — he can play wistful innocents as convincingly as he does raffish jerks — but his courting scenes with Love Hewitt are bereft of comic tension. You just want to see these two kids get together.
It has been over half a century since Kind Hearts and Coronets gave us a British cad blithely killing off his extended family. In 1988, the hit-or-miss Dirty Rotten Scoundrels generated a few mean laughs. By now, though, the culture at large has grown avaricious enough to have rendered this sort of movie all but obsolete. Heartbreakers never tickles your nasty bone, perhaps because, in an era when the gossip pages are dotted with news of celebrity prenups, the prospect of marriage as a route to instant fortune seems less scandalous than it does like business as usual.