Heartbreaker: movie review

( Unrated ) ( Monitor Movie Guide )

In the chic French comedy 'Heartbreaker,' a father hires a professional to bust up the impending nuptials of his daughter.

The premise of the French romantic comedy "Heart­breaker" is so tailor-made for Hollywood that I'd be very surprised if a remake is not in the offing. But why bother when the original is already so slick?

Romain Duris plays Alex, a professional seducer who hires himself out as a "couples splitter." His reasons, aside from the mercenary, are altruistic: He only seduces women he is convinced are not happily partnered, and he never sleeps with them. His job is solely to open their eyes to the matrimonial mistake they might have made.

Even with this tidbit of a premise to go on, you can probably see where this is heading. Alex is hired by a wealthy patriarch to bust up the impending nuptials of his daughter Juliette (Vanessa Paradis) to a rich, doting Brit (Andrew Lincoln) whom she apparently loves. Posing as Juliette's bodyguard, Alex falls for her. Will she fall for him, too?

Since this is one of those movies where the denouement is preordained, director Pascal Chaumeil and his team of writers work overtime throwing roadblocks in front of the would-be lovers.

I realize this movie can't really be taken seriously (it doesn't mean to be), but that doesn't excuse the slapdash plotting and silly sentimentalities. When it turns out, for example, that Juliette harbors a secret passion for "Dirty Dancing," Alex attempts to woo her by mimicking Patrick Swayze's dance moves. I guess we should be thankful he didn't try to moonwalk.

Chaumeil surrounds Alex with a team of accomplices: his prankish sister Melanie (Julie Ferrier) and her hulky husband, Marc (François Damiens). Down on their luck, this trio needs the Juliette gig to stay afloat. Since their world and Juliette's are so disparate, you might be tempted to think that Chaumeil was setting up a comedy of manners high and low.

But that would be giving him too much credit. The main reason Juliette is made so rich is to showcase her against dazzling backdrops in Monaco. The travelogue component of "Heartbreaker" is its best selling point.

Duris, by all rights, should be another, but he's playing down his talents here. The same actor who was so scarily intense in "The Beat That My Heart Skipped" is content to mug and wink his way through the film. I'm not saying that "serious" actors shouldn't try to be screwballs (Duris, in fact, took on just such a role, reportedly to great effect, in the 2004 "Russian Dolls"), but being a screwball doesn't mean frittering away one's gifts.

Cary Grant, to take the premier example, was a great screwball comic who was, at the same time, intensely romantic. With Grant, funniness and sexiness were twinned. This is an exceedingly difficult combo to bring off, and Duris, though it would be unfair to compare him with Grant, doesn't come close. Maybe it's because glamour, at least in "Heartbreaker," doesn't really become him. He seems puny amid the Monaco glitz.

I hope I'm not out of bounds if I suggest that Paradis's longtime companion, Johnny Depp, might have been better in the role. Depp, like Grant, is another of those rarities who can be romantic and a goofball at the same time. In "Heartbreaker," the communion between Alex and Juliette is supposed to be a fairy-tale fulfillment but, instead, I kept feeling sorry for her fiancé. Just because you're rich and loving and handsome is no reason to have your heart broken. Grade: C+ (Unrated.)

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