William Tensy (Gene Hackman), a chain-smoking tobacco zillionaire, goes into a little rant about the ridiculous notion that second-hand smoke is harmful and turns to blast a cloud of cigarette smoke at his parrot, who immediately keels over. If only the second-hand comedy in this movie was as powerful. It is clear that the dream cast members are all enjoying themselves immensely, but that does not translate into much fun for the audience.
Sigourney Weaver plays Max, a con woman who marries wealthy men, denies them sex, and then sues them for divorce when they make a pass at her partner, Page (Jennifer Love Hewitt), who is also her daughter. Weaver and Hewitt are at their most delectable in outfits that Erin Brockovich could only dream of. If there were ever an Oscar for cleavage, this movie would be the one to beat.
After they take New Jersey chop shop owner Dean (Ray Liotta), Page is restless and wants to go off on her own. When they run into a little problem with the IRS, they agree to take on one last big con together and head off for Palm Beach. Max wants to go after Tensy, but Page is drawn to a sweet bartender named Jack (Jason Lee) who owns some land worth $3 million. Max’s challenges include a ferocious guard dog of a housekeeper (“Saturday Night Live’s” Nora Dunn), and Tensy’s constant coughing and terrible tobacco-stained teeth. Page’s challenge is keeping her plan secret from her mother and keeping herself from falling in love with Jack.
It isn’t a terrible movie, but it just does not work very well. We like the characters too much to enjoy their greedy behavior but we do not like them enough to care whether they end up happily. Max and Page are awful to just about everyone and have no sense that their behavior hurts other people. They are selfish and amoral, operating entirely out of expediency with no thought for the consequences for themselves or others. The script tries to make us believe that this is all because Max is trying to protect Page from being hurt, but that is a con job that we just don’t fall for. And despite a few con-job twists, the script is just weak and unoriginal. In real life, these con women would not fool Forrest Gump. Can it possibly be true that this is the second movie in two months to have a supposedly funny scene in which the genitals are knocked off of a nude male statue? This one is even less funny than the one in “The Wedding Planner.”
Aside from the cleavage already mentioned, the best reason to watch the movie is to see Weaver and Hewitt doing their bombshell best and Hackman’s odious performance as the mark who just might not be worth marrying to get $20 million.
Parents should know that this is yet another example of the MPAA’s comedy rule, meaning that material that would get an R rating in a drama gets a PG-13 rating because it is supposed to be funny. The movie contains continual sexual humor that can get very raunchy, including references to group sex. There is no nudity and nothing too graphic onscreen except for the statue. It has very strong language, especially for a PG-13, smoking (comic) and drinking. As noted, the main characters are con women with no concerns about stealing from anyone and everyone.
Families who see the movie should talk about how Max tried to protect Page from hurt, and whether that is wise or even possible. What does it mean to say, “you might as well get hurt in your own healthy ways?” What was it about Jack that made Page think differently about herself and about the possibilities? What do you have to think about the world to be able to rob everyone you meet? Why did it take Page so long to tell Jack her real name, and what did it mean when she did?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy one of the all-time classics, “The Lady Eve,” about a father-daughter team of con artists, and “The Sting” (some mature material), about two con men who take on an even bigger crook for one of the most intricate and satisfying con jobs of all time.