“Heartbreaker” is a French attempt at an American romantic comedy. At this endeavor it is a total success — in the sense that it’s as trite and contrived as most of our romcoms.
The gag is that Alex Lippi (Romain Duris) is a professional heartbreaker. His job is woo a woman in a committed relationship into dumping her current boyfriend or husband. The method is seduction, but he does this not so much by making them fall in love with him as showing them how much better they deserve.
As you might guess, Alex is usually hired by the woman’s father, brother or best friend, who sees what a cad she’s stuck with, if only she would realize it for herself. Alex does not see any of the women after the job is finished, and his rules also include not having sex with them.
So far, he has a perfect record: None of his targets have ever gone back to their old flame.
Any student of romantic comedies can probably guess the rest themselves: Alex gets hired for a big job, guarding a rich girl named Juliette (Vanessa Paradis) who’s set to get married in 10 days. This is the toughest nut he’s ever had to crack, and at first he finds the independent-minded girl immune to is charms. Eventually, of course, she falls for him and — gasp! — he finds that after years of faking love, he’s stumbled upon the real thing.
Juliette has decamped to Monaco to prepare for her wedding to the perfect man (Andrew Lincoln). Usually Alex and his team — consisting of his sister Melanie (Julie Ferrier) and her dimwitted husband Marc (Francois Damiens) — have plenty of time and resources to set up elaborate schemes. In fact, they spend so much on bribes and such that they’re dead broke, and Alex has a nasty loan shark on his tail.
Improvising, Alex poses as Juliette’s hired bodyguard. It’s the perfect ruse to spend all day next to her. His standard M.O. is to find out what his mark likes, and pretend they have that in common. Juliette’s a high-end wine buyer, but her tastes in pop culture run to the crass: She loves George Michael songs and her favorite movie is “Dirty Dancing.”
Of course, the inevitable scene where he and Juliette mimic Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey’s iconic dance scene is just around the corner.
There’s also Juliette’s troublesome best friend Sophie (Héléna Noguerra) who shows up looking for a good time — preferably in Alex’s pants — and the groom himself arrives early.
Director Pascal Chaumeil is a TV veteran who has the sensibilities of television comedy — big, broad jokes, a plot built on happenstance and overheard conversations, and a little smarmy romance.
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But seeing idiot American movies reflected back at us in French is just plain depressing.