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Men Have Hearts That Can Break

October 08, 1992|RANDY LEWIS

Buddy films have been a part of movie-making since well before Crosby first invited Hope to "put 'er there, pal." Writer-director Bobby Roth put a richly moody '80s spin on the genre in "Heartbreakers," a film whose male leads prefer spilling emotions to blood.

There are no car chases or gunplay--just two thirtysomething friends who act as counterbalance to each other's turbulent lives and who are always willing to tell each other everything.

Los Angeles painter Arthur Blue (Peter Coyote) is the quintessential suffering artist. He lives in a loft apartment that's in a perpetual state of disarray--much like his prospects for the future. He detests working for a printer of porno pinups and still never has enough money to pick up a check. His longtime girlfriend, Cyd (Kathryn Harrold), once found his artist lifestyle attractive; after five years, it's just tiresome.

Blue's comrade Eli (Nick Mancuso), on the other hand, has all the material things missing from Blue's life: regular job, great house, snazzy car and a seemingly endless parade of beautiful young women in a seemingly endless string of one-night stands. And that's his gripe. "I want to have a relationship," he moans to Blue as the film opens. Blue's counters later with "I've got to get serious about my career."

Passion or predictability? Art or security? These are the kinds of questions Roth lets his characters wrestle with.

"Heartbreakers," which was shot in downtown Los Angeles with the often cruel, often comical art scene as the backdrop, values intimate dialogue and emotion over grandiose action or plot development. Yes, Blue eventually sees his fortunes begin to turn around, but this is no "Rocky" of the contemporary art world.

Instead, Roth explores a friendship between two men that doesn't hinge on watching or playing sports, on jointly quaffing large quantities of alcohol or on rescuing the damsel in distress.

Coyote gives a particularly masterful performance (watch Blue's face during a long look he gives Cyd when he spots her in a restaurant on the arm of an artist whose commercially successful canvases he despises). You can almost touch the pain he feels when he confesses to Eli that he's just slept with the one woman Eli has really begun to care about.

There are a couple of scenes where Blue or Eli do things that seem out of character for two such supremely sensitive guys.

But critic Pauline Kael nailed it when she said, " 'Heartbreakers' becomes more involving as it goes on, and when it's over, you feel you've seen something (even if you're not quite sure what)."

"Heartbreakers" (1984), written and directed by Bobby Roth. 98 minutes. Rated R.

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