The dirty rotten scoundrels are mother-daughter babes in “Heartbreakers,” but the concept of a glamorous tag team fleecing unsuspecting men overstays its welcome by at least a half-hour after never getting very high off the ground in the first place. Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt make the gold-digging duo attractive but not the least bit sympathetic, resulting in a picture to be watched for its plot mechanics and very occasional laughs rather than with any engagement in its characters or the stakes involved. B.O. haul looks to be moderate.
With a deep bow to Preston Sturges’ “The Lady Eve,” certainly the class of all female con artist pictures, “Heartbreakers” is scarcely oblivious to other genre antecedents. As he did in his first feature outing, “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion,” director David Mirkin supplies a certain gaudy energy to a just OK script, but the dialogue offers only intermittent zingers, and the fundamentally unsavory tenor of the story isn’t ultimately offset by comically successful stylization.
Long opening sequence illustrates the modus operandi of Max (Weaver) and Page (Hewitt), hardcase mother and cynical sprig, respectively, who have made a career of their deceitful tricks. Newly married to chop shop operator Dean Cumanno (Ray Liotta), Max teases him with exceptional sexual promises before passing out on their wedding night bed. Next morning, she repeats how much she wants him, only to race off to barf before any hanky-panky can take place.
Horny as hell when he visits his office, Dean simply cannot resist the charms of his busty secretary (Hewitt), and just when she’s got him in a compromising position, Max bursts in to witness her brand new husband’s infidelity, thereby prompting a tidy cash settlement. Still in need of a major monetary score, however, the women move on to Palm Beach and take a scenic boat tour of the mansions and their owners in search of a target.
Their choice is William B. Tensy (Gene Hackman), a tobacco tycoon who would be far richer still if everyone else smoked as much as he does (when a woman asks him to put out his cigarette, he mutters, “Nazi!”). Rightly sensing an easy mark in this aging bachelor with a red nose and the worst hair this side of Larry of the Three Stooges, Max puts on a full court press, posing as a Russian and quickly inducing Tensy to propose.
Farcical tragedy intervenes, however, so the onus is now on Page, who has been busy falling in love, to the best of her curdled abilities, with beachfront barman Jack (Jason Lee). Finding out that the sweet, good-natured fellow is actually worth well into seven figures makes the task all the easier for Page, who reluctantly joins Mom and the newly reappeared Dean in a plot to fleece Jack.
Given the gleeful self-deprecation with which he seizes the role of the bamboozled billionaire, it’s too bad Hackman wasn’t given more angles to play and that he disappears from the action as soon as he does. Much more fun might have ensued had his wheezing geezer grasped the con and attempted a counterattack; this might also have eliminated the need for some laborious business concerning corpse disposal and a statue in need of a penis implant.
As it is, the seriously extended final reels are mostly devoted to the flinty Page trying to figure out whether she really loves Jack, and to an unconvincing effort by Mirkin and scripters Robert Dunn, Paul Guay and Stephen Mazur to inject a little heart and humanity into a tale about ruthless connivers.
Looking like the billion bucks Max feels should be hers, Weaver puts a good sultry/comic spin on her calculating character. Given that Hewitt’s performance is dominated by petulant stances and impatient eye-rolling, her contribution here is mostly decorative, as not a chance is missed to emphasize her cleavage and legs.
On the supporting side, Liotta is vigorously vulgar, Lee is blissful and Nora Dunn has a choice moment or two as Tensy’s stern housekeeper.
Lilly Kilvert’s splashy, intentionally loud production design and Gary Jones’ costume designs, abetted by those of Ann Roth for Weaver, enliven the protracted proceedings, while the repetitive nature of John Debney’s score, which is often used like a cymbal crash to key scene-ending laughs, becomes annoying. And hasn’t it been common knowledge forever that comedies are, with rare exceptions, best kept short? Apparently, even the best known lessons have to be forgotten and relearned, at the viewer’s expense.