Sigourney’s Sexy Sting … Total Recal , With Tattoos

Sigourney’s Sexy

Sting

As comedies go, Heartbreakers

goes pleasantly. It’s a romp about a curvaceous mother-daughter team of

crackerjack con artists who make their living bilking gullible men of

everything but their Calvins. What a racket. Mom (Sigourney Weaver, at her

cryptic, cynical best-and beautiful again, for the first time in ages) is a

knockout who prides herself on staying young and at the top of her game (“Feel

my butt,” she urges repeatedly-and who could fail to comply?). She stakes out

the rich fools and marries them, while her daughter (Jennifer Love Hewitt, no

slouch herself) seduces them just before the marriage is consummated, in a

masterstroke of timing that allows Mom to catch them with their pants down. Mom

gets a big divorce settlement without ever having to muss her hair, and they

split the proceeds.

Of course, everything else is a flim-flam, too. They

sprinkle glass in their meals at four-star restaurants, which cuts down

considerably on expenses. Then a tough babe from the I.R.S. (Anne Bancroft)

charges fraud and tax evasion, and they need one more big-time scam to pay the

bill. Next stop: Palm Beach, where fat trout with bulging wallets convene to be

expertly gutted. Ensconced in a swanky suite at the Breakers, they go to work

again, but the surprises are just beginning.

Fortified with a fresh supply of wigs and seductive designer

gowns, the felonious mom and her larcenous daughter make their appointed rounds

and settle on their next victim-a wheezing, chain-smoking old billionaire one step away from the funeral

parlor, hilariously played by Gene Hackman. Posing as a Russian temptress, Ms.

Weaver displays the funniest phony accent since Norma Shearer’s in Idiot’s Delight . But the scheme begins

to backfire when her daughter discovers the L-word and falls for a cute

bartender (Jason Lee), who offers her an honest cocktail of marriage and kids.

“Cute is dangerous,” shrieks Mama, who is allergic to the L-word. “Cute leads

to feeling, which leads to screwing, which leads to screwed!”

To make matters worse, the old geezer croaks, and now

they’ve got a dead body to dispose of. Then the stew flies right out of the

microwave when the last of Mom’s 13 

ex-husbands (Ray Liotta), a crook who dismantles stolen cars, shows up

seeking revenge and the fun and games really begin. “Do you have any idea how

much therapy you people need?” screams Mr. Liotta, who can obviously use some

counseling himself. How it all turns out-with an expert cast leaving no stone

unturned to out-screw each other-raises the silliness level to considerable

heights of charm. First, Mr. Liotta wants a refund on the money stolen from

him, then Ms. Weaver discovers to her horror that her annuities from a life of

crime have been stolen from her by the cool, formidable and bogus I.R.S. agent,

Ms. Bancroft, who turns out to be the master scam artist of them all. Heartbreakers has one more trick up its

sleeve that will make you roar. In fact, I found myself roaring more often than

I thought possible.

It reminded me of

Stephen Frears’ darker tapestry of family crime, The Grifters , without the underlying Dostoyevskyan tragedy. Nobody

in Heartbreakers , crisply directed by

David Mirkin, pays a fatal price for their good-natured crimes, and the only

people they con are each other. Unlike Anjelica Huston’s calloused mother

figure in The Grifters , Ms. Weaver’s

maternal instincts are not accompanied by doom, fear or the remotest

possibility of loneliness. Anyone who was ever lucky enough to witness the full

extent of her comedic talents in her cabaret comedy act with playwright

Christopher Durang will be delighted to see them revitalized here. She’s one

babe of a career crook you really want to root for, and the sharp script gives

her ample room to have it every way at once. As a mother, she doesn’t destroy

her offspring’s bid for respectability, and as a crook too old for stress but

too young for retirement, she even finds love herself, still plying her trade

with a new convert. One can only imagine a family reunion dinner, years later,

with everyone stealing the silverware.

Total Recall , With Tattoos

Most movies end with a brutal murder. Memento , a low-budget indie-prod written and directed by

Christopher Nolan, begins with one and moves backwards. Guy Pearce, the

Australian actor from The Adventures of

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and L.A.

Confidential , is a man holding a gun in a brutal execution who

survives-with amnesia. In scenes that alternate between color and grainy

black-and-white for no apparent purpose, he recalls snippets of what happened,

but doesn’t know where he is, what he’s doing or where he’s going. It’s a

head-scratching muddle in which tedium sets in fast-which, it could be argued,

is better than tedium that sets in slowly.

Mr. Pearce is a man in

expensive European suits who drives a Jaguar sedan but constantly wakes up in

trashy, anonymous motels with mysterious pockets full of cash. All we know is

that he is pursuing someone who raped and murdered his wife and he’s seeking

justice. Suffering from the same kind of “rare, untreatable form of memory

loss” (I’ll say!) that Alan Ladd, John Garfield and countless other two-fisted

heroes endured in 40’s film noirs, his only clues to what’s going on are mementos

tattooed all over his body. All he knows is that he is afflicted with short-term

amnesia. So am I. I can scarcely remember a

thing about Memento .

This pretentious muddle

is so confusing you may think they’ve got the reels mixed up. One by one, the clues

on his torso are unraveled as Mr. Pearce exposes one more section of his body,

like Gypsy Rose Lee. But it takes almost two hours before the pieces of the

jigsaw puzzle fit, and then they still don’t make sense. By that time, you

can’t remember the sequence. Haunted by details of his life before the murder,

Mr. Pearce can’t remember what happened 15 minutes ago. His existence is fueled

by index cards, crumbling photographs, murder charts, tattoos and the aid of an

unsavory band of subsidiary characters, including Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe

Pantoliano, who may or may not be criminally motivated themselves.

Like Harold Pinter’s Betrayal , scenes are arranged in reverse

chronological order. The narrative is non-linear, the beginning of the film is

actually its ending, and every revelatory piece of exposition comes from a

point earlier in time, a few moments or sentences prior to what has already

occurred. The big question that nags: “Why?” The problem with movie plots that

unfold backwards is that you can’t remember what happened later because what

you’re seeing is what happened before.

I don’t know about you,

but I don’t go to the movies to take notes to pass a test. Guy Pearce is an

earnest and riveting actor, but he seemed more baffled by Memento than I was. After about an hour, I stopped asking why and

started wondering, “Who cares?”

Songbird at 23: Jane Monheit Debuts

Surfing in on the tallest waves of hype since the overrated

Diana Krall, jazz singer Jane Monheit is making her first major New York club appearance

at the Algonquin’s fabled Oak Room (through March 24), where the attention, I’m

happy to say, is deserved. Everyone weaned on classy singing and the style and

beauty of the kinds of songs that seem to be rapidly disappearing from today’s

trash market is urgently advised to attend. For real music lovers, Ms. Monheit,

who is only 23, is holding something gloriously akin to a summit meeting.

Any cabaret performer can snap two fingers together and make

five syllables out of the word “love” and call it jazz. But Ms. Monheit

modulates intelligently and moves the notes around on a harmonic graph without

losing control of the melody. Her taste is impeccable on her debut CD, Never Never Land (on the N-Coded Music

label), but in person, her music-leavened with her own sultry beauty and

youthful exuberance-is nothing short of intoxicating.

Her age belies a capacity for the kind of suffering that

must be there on “Blame It on My Youth.” When Oscar Levant wrote it, he surely

did not envision it sung by a chick just out of bobbysox. Still, Ms. Monheit

has talent and wisdom and a fine feel for phrasing, with a tender vibrato on

the ends of all the right notes that is positively charming. Long, passionate

phrases turn “Young and Foolish” into an unexpected anthem, and her Brazilian

songs flow. She has obviously listened to all the right singers: Ms. Monheit

can scat like an old trouper with mileage or croon dreamily like a big-band

stylist, depending on the song and the arrangement. She reminds me of those

slinky honky-tonk songbirds in black satin who appear in the smoke of old 40’s

film noirs, interrupting an interrogation by some battered detective like Alan

Ladd or Robert Mitchum long enough to warble a suicidal torch song that sets

the mood for the gunfire to come. I might add that her looks are camera-ready.

In an overcrowded market

of wannabes, Ms. Monheit owes something to luck. But I wonder if she knows how

lucky she really is to be accompanied by the great Alan Broadbent, arguably the

best jazz pianist since Bill Evans. Mr. Broadbent, whose legendary recordings

with the late Irene Kral are collector’s items, has provided lush string

arrangements for Woody Herman, Natalie Cole, Barbra Streisand, Marian

McPartland and Shirley Horn, but he’s a California musician who rarely works in

the Big Apple. Even without Ms. Monheit as a lure, it’s required listening to

head for the Algonquin just to hear Mr. Broadbent and all the gorgeous chords

and keyboard phrases with which he cushions her voice in clouds of spun sugar. George

Mraz on bass and Lena Horne’s favorite guitarist, Rodney Jones, complete the

extraordinary trio. When these guys start cooking in chords on Harold Arlen’s

“Hit the Road to Dreamland,” it’s safe to say music really doesn’t get any

better than this.

As for Ms. Monheit, her life story may be short, and her

patter is so giddy with schoolgirl banality that she sometimes seems like a

contestant for Queen of the Orange Bowl, but she makes up for it with an

internal metronome, an unfailing sense of dynamics, and a beautiful sound as

sweet and malleable as taffy. She’s only 23-what do you want for a nickel?

There is no telling where so much raw material will lead her with a bit of life

experience, but what a thrill it is to be around for this initial stage of the

journey. Sigourney’s Sexy Sting … Total Recal , With Tattoos