When first we meet Sigourney Weaver's Angela (aka Max or Ulga), she's a less-than-blushing bride walking down the aisle to join her mate-to-be, Dean (aka Vinny), played by Ray Liotta, who's been waiting months for their honeymoon to commence. In fact, so eager is he to bed his "virginal" bride, he sweeps her up into his arms and runs with her down what has to be the longest hotel corridor in movie history. (Whether that's actually the six-foot Ms. Weaver he's holding, or a look-alike dummy, Liotta makes this hallway sprint a hilarious, breath-holding bit.) But the strenuous effort is all in vain, for once in the bedroom, his champagne-sodden bride falls into a softly snoring sleep.

The next day, down at Dean/Vinny's "office" (a New Jersey chop shop for "randomly repossessed" cars), the still frustrated bridegroom is easily seduced by his new and sexy young assistant, Wendy (Jennifer Love Hewitt), whose long hair somehow gets entangled in his zipper just as the door opens and--lo!--Angela enters to witness the shocking scene. In less time than it takes to say "mother-and-daughter con artists," Angela and Wendy (real names Max and Page) are outta there, hitting the road with $300,000 and the Mercedes-Benz mom has won in a quickie divorce. Next stop, Palm Beach, where, after some cursory research, the pair of gorgeous grifters finds a new target: an old geezer named W.B. Tensy (Gene Hackman, in full, liver-spotted geezer makeup), who made his fortune in tobacco and whose coughs and wheezes indicate he's been one of his own best customers.

On the laugh-a-minute meter, the script for Heartbreakers rates relatively high, with a plethora of jokes and sight gags--some familiar, some surprisingly fresh--ranging from mild slapstick to inspired satire. Hackman gets the choicest lines, almost all of them about the seldom-satirized evils of tobacco. "Aw," he drawls, "smoking is part of the fun of being a kid." In test-marketing a group of nine-year-olds, the old curmudgeon goes on, his tobacco company found that, "after a little puking…the kids couldn't be dragged away from the stuff."

Sigourney Weaver once again proves that she's as sublimely silly as she is stunning. It's difficult to think of another actress who'd be so perfectly believable as an irresistible seductress and a supremely clever but not-quite-together con artist. She's at her best when pretending to be a heavily accented Russian aristocrat, Ulga, who convinces Hackman to marry her before he coughs himself to death. While Hewitt doesn't match Weaver's deadpan mastery of the absurd, she's a more than passable comedienne--and an appropriately sexy little thing--who looks like she could be Weaver's daughter. It's Page, the daughter, who complicates matters by striking out on her own, trying to pull the marriage con on a bar owner named Jack (an appealingly daffy Jason Lee), and makes the one big mistake Mom has warned her about. She falls in love. Adding further complications, the wonderful Liotta reappears well into the movie, along with an equally wonderful Anne Bancroft as an IRS agent with a few surprises up her sleeve.

With all that Heartbreakers has going for it--a terrific cast, a consistently funny script and just the right, light directorial touch--it's nevertheless unlikely to break any records at the box office. Comedies with women in the lead roles seldom do. Too bad, because--as noted--this one has the makings of a true comedy classic.

--Shirley Sealy