Jarv’s Birthday Series: Heartbreakers (2001)
Is there a genre in cinema that dies on its arse as hard as romantic comedy? I think not, and in particular, I struggle to think of a genre as genuinely failing as romantic comedy in the 21st Century. Even the much-lamented decline of horror hasn’t been as pronounced as this, and on this list are both *gulp* romantic comedies. I was horrified when I saw this run from 1999 to 2005 as you know you’re in deep trouble when the ambitious but hugely flawed Sim0ne is the best film there. Anyhoo, today’s Birthday review is the frankly terrible Heartbreakers (release date 24th August 2001), a film that manages to make even staring at Jennifer Love Hewitt’s boobs boring.
The problem with Romantic Comedy as far as I can tell in the 21st Century is a question of both comedy and likeability. The success of the likes of American Pie (which is just Porkies without the anti-anti-Semitism message. Shouldn’t that be “Pro Semitism?” ) mean that the genre seems to try to outdo itself by becoming more and more gross. This is often achieved with one character becoming the butt of endless jokes where incredibly vile things happen to him for our amusement. The other problem here is that frequently the central character is absolutely loathsome, and it’s impossible for us to actually want his/ her relationship to succeed. Examples include My Boss’s Daughter (this is going to be a fun review), Just Married, Failure to Launch, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and so forth. All of which feature at least one twat that we’re meant to want to have a successful love life and are completely shallow. There’s also usually a fair dose of humiliation in there as well, think about the singing in HTLAG. This is before we even get on to the fact that very, very rarely are they funny.
I don’t get it. This is the genre that threw out some classics like When Harry Met Sally, and now we’re lumbered with garbage such as that crap Mrs. Jarv reviewed earlier this year. Heartbreakers, sorry to report, is another one that fits right into this mould, being painfully unfunny, populated by arseholes and extremely gross on occasion. This is going to be a bumpy review, but I should really accept right now that these types of film are simply not for me.
Heartbreakers is about mother and daughter con team that run an extremely elaborate scam where they pick up potentially wealthy bachelors, mother gets them down the aisle and then in a contrived move finds them en flagrante with the daughter. Mother, Max (Sigourney Weaver) has been running this scam for years, and daughter Page (Jennifer Love Hewitt) wants to branch out on her own. The film opens with them setting up Ray Liotta’s Dean (actually you don’t know it’s a scam at this point). They get screwed by Anne Bancroft, and have to pull one last big scam to set themselves up for life. To this end, Max moves them to Palm Beach to run the scam on Gene Hackman’s Tobacco Mogul, but Page starts trying to screw Jason Lee’s nice-but-apparently-loaded Bar owner Jack. Hilarity singularly fails to ensue, I almost lose my lunch on more than one occasion, but it all works out in the end.
The first problem with this film is characterisation. Page frequently behaves like a twat, albeit a twat with spectacular juggs. However, it’s not her that’s the problem. The problem is Max. Max is phenomenally unsympathetic. She’s an aging con artist that won’t let her daughter out from under her wing and runs really incredibly large deceptions on her own daughter to ensure that she won’t leave. Even Liotta’s minor hood eventually becomes disgusted with her. Against this backdrop, we’re meant to root for Page making it with Jack, but she behaves dreadfully and makes it crystal clear on more than one occasion that she’s in it for the scam. Her eventual realisation that she loves him is but a prelude to Max’s really shitty (and embarrassing) action, but Page has already lost sympathy by taking a bet on him.
Then there are the male characters. Jack is basically just a “nice” bloke. That’s it, that’s all there is to him in the way of characterisation. Dean is a low-life scumbag minor hood, this is obvious, but he’s barely got any depth either. The tobacco baron, Tensy, (Gene Hackman) on the other hand, is truly, truly disgusting. His defining character trait is that he smokes too much, and the film makes great play out of how repellent he is. He’s also a bit of a disgusting reactionary old bore. Nevertheless, he’s not exactly a fully rounded character either.
Against this, the actors can only do so much. Love Hewitt is a surprisingly sparky presence, and let’s face it, looks great in a variety of low-cut costumes. Weaver tries her best, but the character is so hateful that she’s suffering a massive drag, and did anyone, ever, (outside of Galaxy Quest) buy her as a sex symbol? Liotta and Lee do their absolute best, with the former chewing plenty of scenery and the latter supplying little more than his natural charm in a badly underwritten role. Hackman, the old ham, on the other hand is having a blast, and relishes his vile old man role. Bancroft is completely and utterly wasted.
The next problem is that Heartbreakers isn’t funny. Not once. There are less laughs in this than there are in the average Bergman film. I’ll give you a prime example of the comic scenes here: the statue. Weaver, because Hackman is so gross, is trying to attract his attention by bidding against him for a statue with an erect penis. Unfortunately, Hackman suffers a coughing fit and Weaver wins the auction. Sadly, she can’t pay- so she engineers a situation where two porters accidentally snap the penis off. Oh, the hilarity! There is the occasional good line in the film- Liotta gets a few when he discovers the scam, but the whole affair feels so mean-spirited that they don’t raise more than a smile.
Overall, this is a terrible film. Had I not seen My Boss’s Daughter last night, then it would be getting a truly, truly deserved Orangutan of Doom. However, I can’t in all good conscience rate it as the same as that heap. The actors try hard, Liotta in particular, and despite how mean-spirited it is, it’s still comfortably better than the other contender. Against this, though, is that Heartbreakers is a mean-spirited Romantic Comedy that is neither romantic nor funny. It’s, given the subject matter, almost an anti-Rom Com. So, in the interests of balance, I give Heartbreakers half a Michelangelo’s David out of 4.
Next up is the hugely ambitious Sim0ne, a real case of an idea that’s almost impossible to execute as it deserves.
Until next time,
The full list in this series:
- 1978 – The Driver (3 out of 4)
- 1979 – Life of Brian (4 out of 4)
- 1980 –Xanadu (Orangutan of Doom)
- 1981 – An American Werewolf in London (4 out of 4)
- 1982 – Class of 1984 (3 out of 4)
- 1983 – Fire and Ice (1 out of 4)
- 1984 – Cal (1/2 out of 4)
- 1985 – Teen Wolf (3 out of 4)
- 1986 –Reform School Girls (2.5 out of 4)
- 1987 – Dirty Dancing (Orangutan of Doom)
- 1988 – Married to the Mob (1 out of 4)
- 1989 – Millennium (1 out of 4)
- 1990 – Darkman (3 out of 4)
- 1991 – Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (2 out of 4)
- 1992 – Christopher Columbus: The Discovery (Orangutan of Doom)
- 1993 – Hard Target (3 out of 4)
- 1994 – Natural Born Killers (1 out of 4)
- 1995 – Desperado (3 out of 4)
- 1996 – Freeway (2.5 out of 4)
- 1997 – Mimic (2.5 out of 4)
- 1998 – Blade (3.5 out of 4)
- 1999 – Teaching Mrs. Tingle (1 out of 4)
- 2000 – Bring it On (1 out of 4)
- 2001 – Heartbreakers (0.5 out of 4)
- 2002 – Sim0ne
- 2003 – My Boss’s Daughter
- 2004 – Exorcist: The beginning
- 2005 – The Cave
- 2006 – Invincible
- 2007 – War
- 2008 – Death Race
- 2009 – Der Baader Meinhof Komplex
- 2010 – Piranha 3D
- 2011 – Conan the Barbarian