The Palm Beach story

Screwball comedy falls well short of classic standards.

HERE’S THE SETUP: Street-smart seductress Max Conners (Sigourney Weaver) and her saucy-pants daughter Page (Jennifer Love Hewitt) are a familial team of con artists—hence the terribly clever surname. Their grift is to lure buffoonish wealthy men into making hasty matrimonial plans with Max, only to be lasciviously lampooned by Page the day after the wedding, inducing infidelity evidence and neatly ending the marriage. This charade has somehow led to a string of lucrative scams that leave the marked men with their pants down and their wallets open, allowing mother and daughter to collect tidy divorce settlements and set their sights on the next horny idiot.


directed by David Mirkin with Sigourney Weaver, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ray Liotta, Gene Hackman, and Anne Bancroft opens March 23 at Metro, Oak Tree, Pacific Place, other theaters

Things turn tumultuous when the haul from their latest victim, chop-shop proprietor Dean (a twitchy and typical Ray Liotta), catches the eye of the IRS, sending the pair hightailing it to Florida to stanch their impending loss in back taxes. They soon ferret out the ultimate sucker suitor: tobacco tycoon William (Gene Hackman), a lovelorn geezer wheezing at death’s door with a lifetime’s worth of cigarette profits clutched in his malleable hands.

Initially, the casting of Weaver and Hewitt as brazen grifters has its winsome comic charm. (Hewitt still knows what our eyes did to her breasts last summer; the film’s costume designers won’t let us forget it.) But beneath the revealing outfits, a glaring absence of necessary screwball comic elements—starting with a decent premise—leaves the audience feeling as swindled as one of Weaver and Hewitt’s targets. Jason Lee (Almost Famous, Chasing Amy) attempts to bring some sense of plausible implausibility to the fiasco, but his efforts are undermined by undisciplined editing (a run time of more than two hours is simply ludicrous for this genre) and a total lack of chemistry with Hewitt.

Providing some flashes of fun, director David Mirkin does employ brash, overdone sets, shamelessly awkward physical comedy, and bitingly cruel dialogue. It’s a mix that made his characters in 1997’s Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion sympathetically trashy and misguided. If Heartbreakers had a less potholed script and was shorter, and—most importantly—if Weaver’s performance weren’t so hopelessly below her capabilities, Mirkin’s raunchy sensibility might have saved this film. Unfortunately, even a dead-on-balls cameo by Anne Bancroft out-conning the fatal femmes can’t buoy this farce above the waves of its own mediocrity.