Not until I started to write this review did I realize what an oddity Heartbreakers is. How often do we see comedies that focus so strongly upon female leads? Not frequently, as these efforts tend to stick mainly with men. Really, comedy is a male-dominated field across the board and always has been; the ratio of successful male comedians to female comedians seems very high.
Perhaps that’s because women are seen as being more touchy-feely, and at its core, comedy tends to be somewhat nasty. As such, I was happy to see a project like Heartbreakers. Not only does it focus on women, but also it takes on a nicely surly tone.
Heartbreakers looks at the lives of Max and Page Conners, a mother and daughter con artist team played by Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt, respectively. They specialize in quickie marriages; Max hooks up with a successful prospect, holds out on sex until past the wedding, at which time the horny groom runs into hot young Page who entices him to stray. Max conveniently walks in on them, a divorce settlement ensues, and they move on to their next victim.
At the start of the film, Page grows weary of being under her mother’s wing, and she desires to go out on her own. Max discourages this, and when they find they owe the IRS boohoogles of money, she convinces Page to go for one last big sting. Eventually they head to ritzy Palm Beach Florida where they ultimately choose to go after billionaire smoking tycoon William B. Tensy (Gene Hackman).
Inevitably, some fun complications arise along the way. Max poses as Russian Ulga Yevanova, and that choice of role causes complications. Page still wants to strike out on her own, so without her mother’s knowledge, she goes after another eligible millionaire. However, along the way she meets bartender Jack Withrowe (Jason Lee) and finds that perhaps love isn’t all about money. In addition, Max’s last conquest, shady businessman Dean Cummano (Ray Liotta) reappears and ushers in additional problems.
More than anything else, Heartbreakers reminded me a lot of 1988’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, another flick that gleefully examined the world of con artists. Make no mistake: Heartbreakers exists to have fun with the subject. I suppose someone might make a more dour and dramatic look at the cruel world in which these kinds of people live, but Heartbreakers ain’t it. Despite all of their despicable acts, Max and Page are characters we care about and like.
Much of that tone comes from the actors, all of whom are quite good. Comedies live and die with the performers more than virtually any other genre, and though few of these participants are known for their comedic work, they all acquit themselves admirably. Weaver is - and has been - one of the most underrated performers in movies today; she had a nice run in the Eighties when she earned a lot of accolades, but that’s declined over the last decade.
That’s too bad, for she’s rarely anything less than wonderful, and her usual high standards translate into a deliciously wicked performance as Max. No one can do the same kind of patrician nastiness of which Weaver is capable, and she makes Max very entertaining at all times. Even when saddled with a purposefully bad Russian accent, Weaver remains magnetic.
While I expect a good performance from Weaver; Hewitt offers much more of a surprise. Although well aware of her, I’d only seen one of her films prior to this: 1998’s Can’t Hardly Wait. She did little to distinguish herself in it, and based on what I knew of her, I didn’t think I’d see much more in Heartbreakers.
However, Hewitt holds up very well even among stiff competition. No, she’s not in the same league as Weaver, but she brings a nice bite and attitude to Page that works for the character. She shows good comic timing and tone, and she makes the role quite warm and witty. I expected to find her easy on the eyes - for my money, Hewitt’s one of the sexiest young actresses around today - but I didn’t think she’d be so engaging as a personality.
A more modest surprise comes from love interest Jason Lee. Unfortunately, I find it tough to get my initial encounter with Lee out of my head. That occurred during Mallrats, also known as “Kevin Smith’s Crummiest Movie”. In a performance I called “amazingly abrasive and annoying”, Lee started off on the wrong foot with me via that film.
However, since then he’s shown terrific growth. The Lee seen in Chasing Amy - also known as “Kevin Smith’s Best Movie” - seems like a totally different actor. He was also quite good as the self-absorbed singer in Almost Famous, and he continues to charm in Heartbreakers. Lee receives limited screen time but makes the most of it with a performance that appears funny and compelling.
Better known for dramatic entries like GoodFellas and Hannibal, Liotta doesn’t get many comedic opportunities. As such, his nice performance here seems like almost as big a revelation as is Hewitt’s. Liotta lacks a great deal of screen time as well, but his wonderfully over the top mobster provides some of the movie’s best laughs. Liotta’s able to be scary and funny at the same time, which is no small feat.
Lastly, Hackman is as solid a professional as one will ever encounter, so his good performance comes as no surprise. However, I did admire the extent to which he let himself be disgusting as Tensy. The character’s supposed to be a slimy pig, and Hackman really gets into it. Don’t let the DVD cover’s airbrushed image fool you; Gene looks terrible in the movie, and I love it! (He also really lives up to his name, as the man hacks throughout the flick.)
Despite a good résumé that includes stints on The Simpsons and on the occasionally-beloved sitcom Get A Life, director David Mirkin displays no signs of inspiration during Heartbreakers. Nonetheless, he keeps the pace moving at a fairly appropriate level for most of the film. Frankly, I thought it was too long; had it been 20-30 minutes shorter, it probably would have been even more entertaining. Despite that issue, Heartbreakers offers a nicely funny and light-heartedly nasty endeavor that I really enjoyed.
Heartbreakers appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although most of the film looked very good, enough problems occurred to downgrade my rating to a “B”.
Sharpness generally seemed solid. During a few wider shots, I thought the picture looked slightly soft, but for the most part, it came across as nicely crisp and detailed. I discerned no signs of jagged edges or moiré effects, but some minor edge enhancement did mar the presentation at times. This was noticeable during the opening credits and it continued periodically throughout the film, though it never seemed heavy.
Another concern related to print flaws, which also remained reasonably minor but seemed much too prevalent for a brand-new flick. Light grain showed up during some parts of the movie, and other defects also appeared. I saw grit, speckles, blotches, and even a big hair at one point! Again, the defects weren’t enormous, but a six-month-old film really shouldn’t have any.
Much more positive were the movie’s colors. Through the various costumes and settings, Heartbreakers boasted a nicely varied and vivid palette, and the DVD replicated these well. At all times the hues looked clear and vibrant, and they showed no signs of bleeding, noise or other concerns. Really, the colors were absolutely gorgeous. Black levels also seemed to be deep and dense, and shadow detail was clear without any excessive heaviness. Unfortunately, the edge enhancement and print flaws marred what otherwise could have been a terrific image; as it stood, Heartbreakers looked good at all times but fell short of greatness.
To my surprise, I found the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Heartbreakers to offer a more consistent and compelling experience. Comedies usually offer restrained soundfields, but Heartbreakers seemed a bit more open than most. Actually, the mix stayed stuck in the front for the most part, where I heard excellent spread to the side channels. Lots of ambient effects showed up in the right and left speakers, and the music provided very clear delineation as well. The surrounds kicked in fine support of the score and also reinforced the effects. None of this went out on a limb, but the general atmosphere worked very well and created a reasonably lively environment.
Although it wasn’t a slam-dunk, the quality of the audio also seemed to be very good for the most part. Dialogue demonstrated some problems. At times the speech sounded a bit stiff, and I heard mild edginess on occasion. Nonetheless, most of the lines were clear and acceptably natural, and I discovered no problems related to intelligibility. Effects seemed to be clean and accurate, and they showed good punch when appropriate. However, the music provided the strongest aspects of the mix. Throughout the film, the score and other songs sounded wonderfully robust and rich. They seemed distinct and crisp and added excellent bass response. Music usually doesn’t sound this good, so even though the soundtrack featured an average soundfield and some slightly rough speech, I still felt it the mix merited a “B+”.
MGM offers Heartbreakers as a full-fledged special edition, and the DVD definitely includes a lot of supplements. We start with two audio commentaries, the first of which comes from director David Mirkin. He provides a running, screen-specific affair that seems decent but unexceptional.
For the most part, Mirkin proves to be fairly chatty. The track suffers from a moderate number of empty spaces, and these increase as the movie continues, but they never become excessive. Mirkin also displays a nicely dry sense of humor at times that helps make the piece more engaging, and he adds some reasonably interesting comments about the making of the film. However, he concentrates too much on discussions of locations and weather, and the piece can be a bit drab at times, especially as it turns into an “everybody’s great” lovefest. Ultimately, it’s a listenable commentary, but not one that seems to be better than average.
Next we find another track that involves Mirkin, but here actresses Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt join him. All three were recorded together for this running, screen-specific piece. Objectively, it’s a pretty weak track. Mirkin repeats a fair amount of information that he provides elsewhere, and neither Weaver nor Hewitt provide much insight into their craft or the making of the film. Some decent facts pop up along the way, but I didn’t learn much about the movie.
Nonetheless, I think this commentary works on a subjective level, largely due to the presence of Weaver. Despite the lack of hard facts, the three participants engage together well, and they seem involved and interested. Weaver’s simply a very fun and entertaining presence, and she offers enough witty asides to make this piece interesting. As a whole, it’s not a great commentary, but I liked it for the most part.
The DVD includes a few documentaries as well. First we find The Making of Heartbreakers, a fairly generic program. This 22-minute and eight-second show uses the standard format for this kind of piece; it combines clips from the movie, footage from the set, and short interview snippets with cast and crew. The tone heard in the commentaries continues here, as it comes across largely as a lovefest. Everyone tells us how wonderful the others are and what a great movie it is. Unfortunately, it seems redundant to a degree, especially through Mirkin’s remarks; he often offers statements already encountered during one or both audio commentaries. The show’s got a few interesting moments but overall it’s little more than a fairly promotional puff piece.
Along the same lines falls Laffs and Gaffes, another documentary that runs for 11 minutes and 43 seconds. Although it uses the identical format seen in the other program, it features a different focus, as it concentrates on outtakes from the movie. We hear about all the goofiness on the set and see a lot of unused footage from the film. The piece offers the happy and brisk tone seen in the other documentary, but it seems a little more interesting if just because it provides a look at some excised material; few of these are terribly fascinating, but it’s a reasonably fun program nonetheless.
In addition to the theatrical trailer for Heartbreakers and an ad for the DVD special edition of The Princess Bride, we move to a collection of Deleted Scenes. The DVD includes a whopping 19 of these - not the 22 listed on the DVD’s case - which run from between 22 seconds and 181 seconds for a total of 22 minutes and 46 seconds worth of material. As you’ll note, none of these last very long, so nothing substantial was removed from the movie; even the longest one was just an extension of an existing scene. Nonetheless, there’s a fair amount of reasonably amusing material here. We also get to see Hewitt work out in a skimpy outfit, so you’ll hear no complaints from me.
Mirkin’s commentary seems fairly useless, however. He occasionally offers the rationale behind the cuts, but this almost always adds up to time reasons, so you’re not missing much if you skip his statements. He barely talks much of the time, and when he does speak, he sometimes offers remarks as simple as “it had to go” with no explanation.
While I liked the collection of deleted scenes overall, one choice disappointed me: the lack of a “play all” option. Considering the brief length of the clips and the large number of them, we really should have received a way to view them all one after another without having to continuously return to the menu.
While the extras on Heartbreakers offered stronger quantity than quality, they still seemed like a generally decent set, and the DVD as a whole was very nice. I found the movie to be a surprisingly winning and entertaining affair, highlighted by a slew of positive performances from a fine cast. The DVD’s picture often looked great, but some nagging flaws kept it from the top territory. Sound quality was very good for this kind of film, and though somewhat superficial at times, the supplements added value to the set. Ultimately Heartbreakers is a winner as both a DVD and a movie and it merits your attention.