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Hairpin Slapstick


*Heartbreakers (R)

If you're longing for a robust comedy, full of audacious sight gags and surprises, then look no further. Director David Mirkin (Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion) aces this inspired farce-parody about a mother (Sigourney Weaver) and daughter (Jennifer Love Hewitt) con team who get in over their heads when love interrupts their marry-and-divorce-for-payoff schemes.

There isn't an ounce of fat or an inch of slack in this snappy script, and even brief performances by Saturday Night Live alumni Nora Dunn and Kevin Nealon register bubbling hysteria. Gene Hackman plays a bumbling clown as William B. Tensy, a disgusting chain-smoking billionaire. He's the most putrid corporate Republican running dog to ever cough up a tobacco encrusted lung, and a perfect rube for Weaver's hilarious incarnation of Ulga Yevanova, a Russian woman-in-waiting.

Max (Weaver) and her petite bombshell daughter Page (Hewitt) are funny just to look at, in a slew of bawdy dress designs by costume designers Ann Roth (The World According To Garp) and Gary Jones (The Talented Mr. Ripley). Weaver is a consummate comedienne, using her statuesque figure and wrinkles around her mouth that insinuate 40 foul thoughts constantly crossing her mind. With Hewitt playing her big eyes and full lips, sending semaphore signals to the back row, the two scam artist beauties trade familial banter like old war buddies planning their next battle.

Page wants to cut ties with mom and strike out as her own man-ravaging scam artist. But Max (also known as "Angela" and "Ulga") knows that her still emotionally impressionable daughter has a distance to go before she can avoid a con's worst pitfall -- falling in love with her mark. After Angela (Weaver) successfully bilks $300,000, with Page's saucy help, from Dean Cumanno (Ray Liotta), an over-anxious groom, a run-in with the I.R.S. empties their fat bank account. Anne Bancroft is puckish and cruel as Mrs. Vogal, a witchy I.R.S. agent who turns the movie upside down and shakes out the sand for one brief moment.

With Page hot to gain her independence, the grifting duo hit Miami looking to run their "last con" which will set them up for life. The women scam a luxury room in the nicest hotel in town, and while Max chooses tobacco tycoon William Tensy as her target, Page breaks a con code against running two scams simultaneously by pursuing Jack Withrowe (Jason Lee), the mild-mannered owner of a seaside bar worth $3 million. Love follows.

Max takes on the persona of Ulga, a Russian temptress, to snare a wedding proposal from the yellow-toothed Tensy. Ulga's perfect Russian accent barely conceals her inability to speak the language when the couple have dinner at a Russian restaurant and she's asked to join the band onstage for a song. Weaver performs a side-splitting "Russian" song that sends the movie into another stratosphere as Ulga improvs her way through the precarious situation. When Ulga hits trouble with Tensy's suspicious housemaid Miss Madress (Nora Dunn), there's little doubt who will win the bitch war. Comic sparks fly between Dunn's repressed but ambitious maid and Weaver's cross-stitched grifter. And Hackman puts a cherry on the fun when he pays off an officer of the law with the comic inflection and on-the-spot timing of a stand-up talent.

If Max and Page are comically reprehensible for their cunning deeds, Tensy is positively condemnable as a fanatical image of the horrors of tobacco. Heartbreakers is howling, naughty good fun.

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