Heartbreakers Lets Ray Liotta Shine As A Goofy Wise Guy

The first time I ever saw "Goodfellas," my dad had put it on in our living room while he helped my mom clean up for Thanksgiving. I must have been eight or nine-years-old at the time, so two and a half hour mafia movies weren't really my thing yet. I remember saying, "What are you watching?" only for my dad to exclaim, "I HAVEN'T SHOWN YOU 'GOODFELLAS' YET?!"

I had no idea what to expect, but the bad guy from "Home Alone" was there, which meant as my dad dusted the array of tchotchkes my mom kept on the shelves around the bulky CRTV, he quoted everything Tommy DeVito said with absolute precision. My dad looks and sounds an awful lot like Joe Pesci, which meant his movies got a lot of play in my house growing up, but none more so than "Goodfellas." "Never rat on your friends and always keep your mouth shut" was basically a Colangelo family motto.

As I got older and my taste in movies began to develop outside of stuff my parents liked, it got harder to convince my dad to step outside of his comfort zone and watch something that was far more my speed than his. But there existed a failsafe — I could get my dad to watch just about anything from any genre as long as someone from "Goodfellas" was in a starring role. This is exactly how I convinced my Italian, working-class Midwestern dad to watch "Heartbreakers," the mother-daughter rom-com con movie starring Sigourney Weaver, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jason Lee, Gene Hackman, and the late, great, Ray Liotta.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with a feminine twist

Despite debuting at #1 at the box office and receiving 3 out of 4 stars from Roger Ebert, "Heartbreakers" hasn't exactly become a comedy classic. Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt play a team of mother-daughter con artists who make their cash by having Weaver marry a rich schmuck only for Hewitt to seduce them just as Weaver walks in, giving her a reason to file for divorce and take half his fortune. The film was directed by David Mirkin of "The Simpsons" and "Romy & Michele's High School Reunion" fame, and featured Gene Hackman and Ray Liotta as two of the women's marks. Liotta plays Dean Cumanno, the owner of an auto body shop and part-time crook. There's only one problem: Even after their con succeeds, Dean tracks down his "ex-wife" to make amends, having sincerely fallen in love with her, only to realize that he's been conned.

Now Dean, being a crook himself, isn't about to get law enforcement involved, and instead strikes up a deal for a cut of their criminal empire in exchange for his silence, which means he sometimes has to participate in the cons himself. Ray Liotta is synonymous in the minds of most as Henry Hill in "Goodfellas," and in "Heartbreakers," he's essentially playing Henry Hill if he was a lovable, aging himbo. The movie is an absolute camp delight, and by golly, Ray Liotta's performance got my stubborn dad totally on board.

Heartbreakers is one of Liotta's favorites

No shade to Weaver, Hewitt, Lee, or Hackman who are all fantastic in this flick, but Liotta absolutely steals it. At one point he's pretending to be a guy named Vinny Staggliano at a wedding, and the groom's mother asks what he does. "College professor," he replies. "Oh! Uh, what do you teach?" she asks. "College stuff. What are you, a f****** cop?" he retorts back. In a movie like "Goodfellas," this moment would feel like a threat. In "Heartbreakers," it's comedic gold. Liotta has played a lot of bad guys and wiseguys over the years, but "Heartbreakers" allowed him to showcase his comedy chops and play something a little sillier.

"Sometimes I get to play goofy guys!" he said in a Facebook post about his time in "Heartbreakers." Liotta described the film as one of his favorites, and cited watching Gene Hackman work as being what made the movie feel "extra special" for him. "I didn't have any scenes with him, but I'd stay or come early just to watch him work," he said. "And not for nothing, but it's a really, really funny movie .. .as you can tell I loved doing this movie and I dare you not to laugh!" Actors who are known for specific "types" of characters frequently express regret or embarrassment when they step outside of their wheelhouse, but Liotta clearly loved getting the chance to do something a little different.

A motto for life

The first thing I did when I heard about Liotta's passing was text my dad. He's not the most technologically savvy dude, and if he was going to hear about it from anyone, I wanted it to be me. He was bummed out, as to be expected, but we both immediately began sharing our memories of watching him on screen. I reminded him of us sitting on the basement couch, absolutely roaring with laughter throughout the "Heartbreakers." He loved Liotta's character, he loved Hackman playing against type, and he loved Sigourney Weaver pulling one over on a bunch of men. The rom-com storyline with Hewitt and Lee he couldn't care less about, but the film's message, as delivered by Liotta, was heard loud and clear.

"Love is pain! Life is pain! You can't protect anybody from it. It's always gonna get you. But sometimes, life could also be good. But you gotta be open. You gotta take chances. You gotta let go!"

My dad elbowed me in the way that Italian dads love to do to their kids, making sure that I didn't miss the moment. "You hear that? Pay attention. He's speaking the truth about life, kid." Never in my wildest imagination would an offbeat comedy from the early aughts have such an impact on my father and I's relationship, but it's a moment I've never forgotten.

And it's all thanks to Ray Liotta's brilliantly comedic delivery.