April 02, 2001 12:00 PM

Sigourney Weaver, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Gene Hackman, Ray Liotta, Jason Lee, Nora Dunn, Ricky Jay

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Half the fun of movies about con artists is observing the intricate mechanics of their scams. At the start of this uneven but still vastly enjoyable comedy, a mother-and-daughter grifter team are about to see their signature scam pay off yet again. Max (Weaver), the senior half of the duo with plenty of va-va-va-voom in her middle years, has cajoled Dean (Liotta), the moneyed owner of a New Jersey chop shop, into marrying her. Then, scant hours after the ceremony, she catches him in a compro-mising position with his nubile secretary, who—unbeknownst to him—is actually Max’s daughter, Page (Hewitt). The result: To assuage the apparent blow to her self-esteem, Max demands a $300,000 settlement and a Mercedes from the clueless Dean, then heads with Page to Palm Beach to trawl for even bigger suckers.

It’s a living the two have been making for years. Max, embittered by the long-ago desertion of Page’s father, figures that all men are easy marks for low decolletage, long legs and sweet talk. Impressionable Page is eager to follow in Mom’s high-heeled footsteps—which is why, in Florida, they set their sights on a rich old coot (Hackman) with a hacking smoker’s cough and a mansion. What they didn’t plan on is Page’s falling hard for a seemingly penniless local bar owner (Lee). As Max says accusingly to her, “I saw you kissing him with your eyes closed.”

Heartbreakers, as directed by David Mirkin (Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion), is never quite as polished as it could be and frequently stoops low for its jokes. (Max, trying to wriggle out of buying a pricey statue she accidentally bid on at auction, declares that she has spotted a crack in it. “That’s just his butt, lady,” a guard assures her.) But this is carping; if one sits back and relaxes, there are lots of laughs to be had. Weaver, always adept at comic roles, has a grand time parading about in sexy outfits and wowing anything in pants. Hackman and Liotta dive into their roles with relish, and Hewitt, while not yet in Weaver’s league, adds sting to the best of her punch lines. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: This con job really works

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