In the glossy new French concoction Heartbreaker, Romain Duris (The Beat That My Heart Skipped) plays a principled professional seducer with a heart of gold. How can a filmmaker get audiences to root for a character whose affections can be purchased by the hour? They can begin, like the makers of Heartbreaker (and the makers of Failure To Launch, My Best Friend’s Girl, and other films before them), by assigning pure motivations to the hero and taking sex out of the equation. Here Duris plays a man paid handsomely by interested parties to break up fatally flawed romantic relationships, but only if the woman is unhappy. Additionally, Duris never has sex with any of his targets. Heartbreaker further stacks the deck by making Duris’ business a money-losing operation because of its insane overhead. He’s less a glorified gigolo than a saintly altruist, and his seemingly sketchy business could very well qualify as charity. Duris is practically the Mother Teresa of men paid to make women in dysfunctional relationships fall in love with him.
Naturally, it’s only a matter of time until he stumbles upon an assignment that makes him reconsider his life’s work. That gig comes in the fetching, gap-toothed form of pop star Vanessa Paradis, who plays the impulsive, headstrong daughter of a wealthy businessman who doesn’t want his daughter to marry her seemingly perfect fiancé for reasons that aren’t immediately clear. Duris poses as Paradis’ bodyguard and driver to get closer to her and finds himself increasingly attracted to her for reasons that have little to do with business.
For a wild child presented as a plucky iconoclast, Paradis has awfully girly tastes. Duris rams his way through Paradis’ formidable defenses in large part by pretending to share her love for George Michael and learning/mastering all of the choreography from Dirty Dancing, her favorite movie. (Everything about Heartbreaker feels derivative and overly familiar, so it’s all too appropriate that its most tackily charming scene recreates, on an almost frame-by-frame basis, a big dance number from Dirty Dancing.) Heartbreaker relies far too heavily on the charm and attractiveness of romantic leads whose chemistry is lukewarm at best to sell a groaning collection of rom-com clichés. Considering Heartbreaker’s blinding slickness and reverence for formula, the forthcoming Hollywood remake is bound to feel awfully redundant.