Slick entertainment is rarely as, yes, slickly entertaining as it is in "Heartbreaker," a French romantic farce that is commercial cinema at its most successful. Given that Hollywood has all but forgotten how to turn out adult amusements of this type, it's especially welcome.
A major box office hit in France, "Heartbreaker" took a certain risk in featuring two major dramatic stars, Romain Duris and Vanessa Paradis, who'd never done romantic comedy before. You'd never know that from what's on screen, however, as both performers throw themselves into the parts with enthusiasm and panache.
They're helped by efficient direction by Pascal Chaumeil, a television and commercial veteran making his feature debut, and a clever, efficient script (Laurent Zeitoun, Jeremy Doner and Yoann Gromb) inspired by a situation in Zeitoun's family.
That premise, like many strong commercial ideas, is both familiar and a bit surprising. Duris plays Alex, a handsome devil who breaks up couples for a living. Working with his sister Melanie (Julie Ferrier) and her husband, Marc (Francois Damiens), he is hired by disgruntled relatives to talk women out of relationships without anyone being the wiser.
Alex, it should be emphasized, is hardly without scruples. Not only won't he destroy couples for religious or racial reasons, he also believes in true love. "We only break up couples," is his motto, "we never break hearts." There also is absolutely no sex involved. Ever.
"Heartbreaker" starts with what is in effect an infomercial for Alex and his system, as we see him work his magic in all kinds of situations. Duris, best known to American audiences for starring in Jacques Audiard's "The Beat That My Heart Skipped" and the films of Cedric Klapisch, adds his own particular intensity to this light comic role to excellent effect.
Ordinarily Alex would never attempt to break up Juliette (Paradis) and her fiancé Jonathan (Andrew Lincoln). She is a wine expert, he a philanthropist, and they are so in love that the word on the street is "god couldn't have created a more perfect couple." But Alex is also in desperate need of funds, so he takes the assignment from Juliette's wealthy and controlling father.
With only 10 days to go before the big event, Alex follows Juliette to the wedding site in Monaco, posing as a security expert hired by her father. The beautiful Juliette, however, proves to be more than his match, resisting his wiles so successfully Alex starts to doubt himself.
Paradis, no surprise here, looks terrific in a series of glamorous outfits, but more to the point she infuses a critical strength of character into Juliette. The manipulations Alex and his team perpetrate could potentially be viewed as sour, but because Juliette can so manifestly take care of herself, they come off as comedically as they're intended.
It also helps that Duris and Paradis have excellent on-screen romantic chemistry. It's fun to watch them play off each other, especially in set pieces like their duet duplicating the moves from "Dirty Dancing," a particular favorite of Juliette's that Alex has learned in an attempt to get on her good side.
"Heartbreaker's" plot is as carefully worked out as a clock mechanism, and one of the pleasures of watching it is appreciating the artful and confident professionalism with which it unfolds. The scenario may feel a trifle long at times, but with stars this attractive, it would be bad manners to complain.