Femmes fatales

Heartbreakers. Starring Sigourney Weaver, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ray Liotta, and Gene Hackman. Directed by David Mirkin.
Rated 3.0 Heartbreakers is a brazen sort of romantic comedy in the screwball-satire mode. Its cheerfully devious heroines have, so to speak, brass balls, and the film itself is a comically contorted variation on the hooker with a heart of gold, or perhaps of gilded tin in this case.

The central pair is a mother-daughter team (Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt) running a marriage-and-divorce scam on gullible but wealthy bachelors. Their first mark in the film is a New Jersey mobster (Ray Liotta) who runs a massive garage for “chopping” stolen cars. The second is a chain-smoking tobacco industry mogul (Gene Hackman) who is in danger of coughing himself to death before the seductive scam artists can get their hands on his millions. Meanwhile, the affable owner (Jason Lee) of a lucrative beachside saloon takes an off-the-wall liking to the Hewitt character, and that throws both women into a tizzy.

Hackman, an exuberant grotesque, and Liotta, still in stooge mode after having Hannibal Lecter pick his brain, are delightful, and sometimes surprising, comic butts, while Lee tosses off some charmingly off-handed romantic interest. But the saucy sardonic seductions of the two con women are the sharpest and funniest elements of the film, and their caricatures of bold female wiles form an amusingly apt partnership with the caricatured Pavlovian randiness of the men.

I watched this one with a nearly full house on a Saturday afternoon, and the rest of the audience wasn’t laughing nearly as much as I was. I don’t know if that’s just a sign of my susceptibility to rowdy humor, or an indication that the film is treading on real toes and tacit taboos in the age of consumer-culture eroticism.