`Heartbreakers' is coldly clinical; `My New Partner,' wittily French

``Heartbreakers'' is just what we didn't need: a buddy movie for the ``me'' generation. One main character is an artist who ``objectifies'' women in obsessive paintings. The other is a businessman with a talent for self-pity. The plot consists of career exploits, unappetizing sex encounters, and long whining sessions -- all reflecting the dubious notion that ``getting in touch with your feelings'' can be the most macho maneuver of all.

Peter Coyote and Nick Mancuso have moments of offbeat charm in the leading roles, and Carole Laure holds the screen persuasively as a woman who attracts them both and touches off the weepy finale. But their performances are outpaced by the movie's pretentious style -- which sticks its neon-tinted nose into every scene, spewing so many self-conscious details that you expect the set designer to take a bow during the end credits.

The chief blame doesn't fall on cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, whose lighting and camera work are clever, if flashy. The worst miscalculations come from the director and screenwriter, Bobby Roth, whose filmmaking approach never penetrates an inch beneath its own hard surfaces.

``Heartbreakers'' is a cold, calculated stare at subjects that cry out for warmth and compassion. It ``objectifies'' everyone in sight, including its own hapless viewers.

Beating the Oscars to the punch by a few weeks, the French film industry handed out its C'esar awards recently. Top honors went to a comedy about a cop. ``My New Partner,'' also known as ``Les Ripoux,'' was named best picture. And its maker, Claude Zidi, took the trophy for best director. Coming just before the film's American release, this should boost the box-office prospects of ``My New Partner'' on the international circuit. While it's not the kind of heavyweight opus that normally wins Academy Awards in the United States, it has a quiet and very Gallic charm, with touches of gentle absurdism to temper the sentiment that threatens to swamp it near the end.

The hero, played to roly-poly perfection by Philippe Noiret, is a police veteran who knows all the tricks. Since not all the tricks are legal, he also knows how to walk a thin line between petty graft and full-fledged corruption. He's happy. The small-time crooks on his beat are happy. Even the police department is happy -- since a low arrest rate keeps the headlines quiet and makes it look like the cops are keeping the city as clean as can be.

The trouble starts when that new partner (Thierry Lhermitte) shows up, fresh from the police academy and brimming with honesty. He won't accept a measly bribe or a free lunch, and he can't imagine how arresting a mugger might cause more neighborhood trouble than it would solve. Before long the veteran and the rookie are at each other's throats. Before much longer they're looking for some sort of compromise.

``My New Partner'' might have been a richer film if it followed the standoff between its characters to the limit. But halfway through the story a wry cynicism takes over, pushing the honest rookie so far into the arms of corruption that even his jaded mentor tries to put on the brakes.

From here on, it's pretty much a standard caper movie, with the young cop engineering a rip-off that could put both of them on easy street. The story is still diverting, but its energy flags right through the overdone, misty-eyed finale.

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