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Breaking up isn't always hard to do


A young woman is on a Saharan holiday with her bored lover. He doesn't want to budge from the pool and she wants to explore the dunes. She misses the tour bus but catches a last-minute ride with a young man who coincidentally is heading in the direction she wants to go. On the way, he stops by a village where he immunizes poor children who see him as a medical miracle worker. The woman is impressed. By the time they reach the dunes, it is sunset as silver doves sail across the horizon. Now she's enchanted. With the slightest glint of a tear in his eye, he talks about how he will never love again since his wife died. She's smitten. They kiss. She naturally has second thoughts about the bum she left back at the pool. She's on the next plane home. And Alex's work is done.

Alex is a professional heartbreaker. We've seen scam artists, flimflammers and double agents, but we've never seen the likes of Alex Lippi (Romain Duris). Alex and his sister Melanie (Julie Ferrier, Micmacs) and her husband Marc (Francois Damiens) run a rather elaborate operation using budget-busting high-tech gadgets and ingenious disguises. Their methods are more Mission Impossible than Get Smart.

But they do have scruples. They'll never break up a couple because of race or religion. Alex will never sleep with the unwitting targets: "We open their eyes, not their legs." And they'll only break up a couple in which the woman is "not knowingly unhappy"--in other words it's apparent to everyone except her and the jerk that she's with. More often than not, their clients are disgruntled relatives who have run out of patience trying to tear the couple apart in conventional ways.

But Alex may have met his match. He takes a job from a wealthy mobster anxious to break up his heiress daughter Juliette (Vanessa Paradis) and her almost-perfect fiance Jonathan (Andrew Lincoln). Duris (The Beat That My Heart Skipped) and Paradis haven't performed in romantic comedies before, yet their comic timing is precise, and they look fantastic together. (In real life, in addition to her acting and singing career, Paradis is a Chanel model--and Johnny Depp's squeeze--and is breathtaking all dolled-up in Charlotte Betaillole's costumes.)

Alex's biggest hurdle is that Juliette's fiance is honest, successful, wealthy and movie-star handsome. So why in the world would there be reason to break up these two?

But Alex endures. One moment, he's James Bond. The next he's Inspector Clouseau. And in his bag of tricks is a romantic re-creation of Juliette's favorite movie, Dirty Dancing.

The result is a gorgeous-looking rom-com, filmed primarily in Monaco and along the French Riviera. Heartbreaker is a very American-feeling French comedy. Director Pascal Chaumeil is apparently in love with the western culture of the 1980s. Not only does Dirty Dancing play an integral role in the plot, but Juliette's all-time favorite song is the Wham! ditty, "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go." Naturally, Alex has it handy for his car stereo.

Make no mistake. This isn't ground-breaking stuff. Heartbreaker is a cinematic trifle, a confection. It's much more sparkling wine than champagne ... but it still goes down nicely.

Heartbreaker has already been a big box-office success in Europe, and it has been co-opted for an American translation. Please, God ... please don't let Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson be the stars. That would taste more like flat ginger ale.