Sometime in the last 10 years, the spiked punch of Hollywood romantic banter fermented into throat-scouring moonshine. In teen flicks lately, most boys undergo all manner of verbal abuse as prelude to physical gratification. Julia Roberts is perpetually sniping, screeching, and foot-stamping at an endless procession of shrugging guys, and all the while hangs onto her crown as America’s sweetheart. And in the farce Heartbreakers, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Jason Lee start playing Martha and George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? upon their first meeting; the girl’s wild mood swings and unprompted outbursts of cruelty suggest not your garden-variety beeyatch but a bipolar cocktease. Her swain’s stalwart patience would be understandable if all he wanted were a toss in the sack—the bodacious Hewitt, bound and taped into economy-size dresses and tarted up in Sharon Tate maquillage, evokes Barbarella as mallwalker. But in a studio rom-com, people have to say I Love You and mean it; they’re conscripted to marry.
Heartbreakers opens with a marriage: Sigourney Weaver weds Ray Liotta (in his glinting sportcoat and butterfly collar from GoodFellas), falls asleep pre-consummation, and discovers him the next morning with his zipper caught in Hewitt’s hair. Once Weaver secures a fat divorce settlement, it’s made clear that the wife and the homewrecker are in fact a bitter mom-and-tot team of con artists, entrapping horny millionaires as revenge for the cad who pulled a “conceive and leave” on Weaver back when she was a dewy innocent, sticking her with a daughter she resents and smothers. The gruesome twosome then set their sights on near-dead tobacco baron Gene Hackman (putrescent geriatric hijinks abound), but Hewitt’s nasty dullard gets distracted by the attentions of Lee’s slacker bartender and the gradual realization that her mother is one sick fuck. Oafishly staged by zoom-addled David Mirkin (Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion), Heartbreakers gives redemption a bad name, but gives conniving misanthropy a worse one. It seems that grifters can quell the pain inside if they stop abusing total strangers on the fly and find that special someone they can abuse for life.
The same goes for commitment-phobic bounders in The Brothers, in which an epidemic of solipsism breaks out among four lifelong African American friends when one of them announces his impending nuptials. Cringe-inducing slapstick jockeys for screen time with undermotivated high-volume confrontation. D.L. Hughley’s wife won’t do blowjobs, Morris Chestnut’s new girlfriend (Gabrielle Union, adding unwarranted nuance to a thankless role) used to date his dad, and gender-segregated encounter groups spontaneously form once in a while to trash-talk Mars or Venus (and, in a recurring theme, deride black-nonblack couples). Gary Hardwick calls his directing debut Refusing to Exhale, and the film is indeed airless and oddly fatiguing.