Romance, comedy a winning match in "Heartbreakers"

Tue Feb 16, 2010 4:29am EST

French singer Vanessa Paradis poses as she arrives at the Cannes Festival Palace to attend the NRJ Music Awards in Cannes, southeastern France January 26, 2008. REUTERS/Gilbert Tourte

French singer Vanessa Paradis poses as she arrives at the Cannes Festival Palace to attend the NRJ Music Awards in Cannes, southeastern France January 26, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Gilbert Tourte

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BERLIN (Hollywood Reporter) - "Heartbreakers" is one of those high-concept comedies the French turn out with seeming ease. Yes, they traffic in stereotypes, slapstick and near-operatic emotions. But they are so much fun to watch that American producers keep trying to remake them without ever quite getting it right.

With a bright and extremely good-looking cast headed by Romain Duris and Vanessa Paradis and the splashy backdrop of Monte Carlo, "Heartbreakers" mixes its ingredients into a frothy cocktail of Gallic risibility. Fans of gritty realism need to look elsewhere.

And, yes, in case you're wondering, Universal Pictures and Working Title reportedly have snapped up English remake rights to "Heartbreakers" ("L'amacoeur"). Yet the film itself is still available for many territories, including North America. Sure looks like a smart buy.

OK, here's the high concept: Alex (Duris), his sister (Julie Ferrier) and her husband (Francois Damiens) run an unusual business: For a price, they break up romances.

As a result of Alex's charms, the elaborate stage managing of his brother-in-law, who handles all things technical, and his sister, who handles everything else, women's eyes open about their lovers' true nature and they see greater possibilities for their future.

The movie starts out full throttle. A love con in North Africa sets up Alex as a rugged and altruistic though lovelorn doctor bringing vital medical assistance to needy rural villagers. With financial payoffs to his "cast of characters" and a heady romantic atmosphere supplied by his co-conspirators, Alex sweeps a young woman off her feet and safely out of the arms of a philandering lover. Mission accomplished!

Back in Paris, though, the trio is summoned for a mission impossible. A wealthy father needs them to break up the wedding of his daughter the following week. Alex's unfortunate debts to a mobster convince him he must ignore his first rule: Never break up a romance where the woman is truly happy.

For Juliette (Paradis) has landed a catch: Her fiance (Jacques Frantz) is rich, handsome, generous and very much in love with her. With no time to lose, Alex has the bright idea to get the father to hire him as Juliette's bodyguard as she settles into Monte Carlo to make final wedding arrangements.

She detests Alex at first sight and doesn't think much better of him the second time. Alex's team goes into full combat mode. While some of their tricks work just fine, others misfire. Especially when Juliette's nymphomaniac girlfriend (Helena Noguerra) shows up and sets her sights on Alex.

While this is not quite French farce, adjoining bedroom doors do slam open and shut, and the romance here is most definitely a contact sport. Quite predictably, although perhaps the word is "inevitably," Alex falls for his prey. The heartbreaker gets his heart broken.

Most of the gags are quite delicious. The best one involves Juliette's favorite film, "Dirty Dancing," and Alex's intense study of all of Patrick Swayze's dance moves so he can impress Juliette. A few, such as those involving a goon sent to check up on the indebted client, are lame and repetitive.

Television director Pascal Chaumeil, making a winning feature debut, keeps the comic flow in Laurent Zeitoun, Jeremy Doner and Yohan Gromb's screenplay moving at a rapid pace. Duris and Paradis make a charismatic couple, perhaps out of the pages of Elle magazine, with sparks flying believably and not just because the script says so.

Veteran cinematographer Thierry Arbogast takes full advantage of Monte Carlo's glamour to fill the screen with eye-pleasing images.

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