Dirty rotten scoundrelettes

by Ed Symkus

It's very rare for a full-fledged comedy to be so loaded with so many characters that are impossible to root for. For the most part, this one is peopled with the kind of folks most of us would strive to avoid. There are the two leads, the mom and daughter con team of Max (Sigourney Weaver) and Page (Jennifer Love Hewitt), who will commit any kind of non-violent crime on any man as long as there's a load of money in it for them. There's Dean (Ray Liotta) -- one of those men -- who decides not only to not let them get away with it, but to go about it with forceful determination.

There's William (Gene Hackman), possibly the richest target -- and simply not a nice fellow -- Max and Page have ever set their sights on. And there's Jack (Jason Lee), who happens to be a nice guy -- a very nice guy -- but who nevertheless can't be cheered for because he never lets himself get beyond the doormat stage and is regularly walked all over.

The gimmick here is that Max and Page are a team with a working plan. Whenever they arrive in a new town -- always apart, never seen together -- their first order of business is to find a wealthy single man. When they do, mom goes about working her wiles on him (Weaver has no problem convincingly playing the sexy, middle-aged woman), and over a period of time gets him to propose to and then marry her. When the time is right -- usually just about immediately -- lithe young Page enters the scene, gets the new mark in a compromising position, and waits for Max to walk in on them. This kind of math problem quickly adds up to a divorce with a big settlement. And then the pair is off to the next town.

That's the big con the film is all about. What makes most of what goes on here a lot of fun is that there are all kinds of cons being pulled. Some of them are even done by grifters upon grifters. For there are more than just Max and Page playing this game.

Possibly for the sake of scenery or maybe because the filmmakers just wanted to have a nice climate to shoot in, the action moves to and stays in Palm Beach, pausing for a while at the exorbitant Breakers hotel. Here our anti-heroines play everyone for all they're worth, actually demonstrating some very nice methods for getting free rooms or restaurant meals. It's in scenes like these that both Weaver and Hewitt get to demonstrate their natural comic flair.

And it's here where they come upon William, first seen wearing bright orange pants that almost match the rather red drinking nose the character has obviously developed over time. This is a role that Hackman absolutely devours. He's big and brash, with a lit cigarette always in hand and an accompanying hacking cough that's played so far over the top, getting laughs out of it is guaranteed. This seems to be the most fun Hackman has had since his Lex Luthor Superman days.

And his performance is typical of the film's hit-you-over-the-head humor. Anyone looking for more subtle comedy had best go see something else, maybe rent out a copy of Flirting with Disaster.

Even as this new unaware target starts getting closer to the ladies' web, an unfortunate event happens -- Page starts growing up, or getting greedy, or both. She feels that it's finally time for her to go out on her own, not to keep depending on having a partner. Mom, of course, doesn't want her baby leaving the nest. Or is she afraid she can't do it without her gorgeous little girl? Whatever the reason, Page, behind mom's back, does give it a college try, and ends up going after Jack, who happens to own a valuable bar.

The first of the film's problems occurs around this portion of the story. The character of Jack, though well played by Lee, just isn't convincingly written. It's understandable that he's attracted to Page, even after she initially and rudely spurns him (before she finds out he's rich). But she's just all over him with obnoxious behavior on numerous occasions, and the poor slob keeps coming back. At first, his behavior is puzzling, later it's nonsensical.

There are other flaws, like the film's over-dependence on loud musical cues to set the tone, and a really embarrassing rendition of Back in the U.S.S.R. by Russian-accented Weaver. And it does feel like it takes too long to get to the film's clever conclusion. But that's all right. There are terrific cameos by Kevin Nealon and Anne Bancroft. And Hewitt goes through more costume changes than Tina Louise (Gilligan's Island) ever did. And she looks killer in all of them.

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