Director Nick Cassavetes, whose soft touch with romance was behind that classic date movie "The Notebook," is now responsible for the quintessential anti-date movie — "The Other Woman."
There is no question whose side he is on in this little bit of rasty business starring Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann and Kate Upton. My advice to guys? Step away from the vehicle, because "The Other Woman" is out of control and intent on running down a certain kind of male.
Even if you're not the lying, cheating, thieving type — that would be Mark, a slickster played by "Game of Thrones'" Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, juggling wife, mistress, other mistress and some other ill-gotten gains — there is bound to be collateral damage.
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The comedy, written by Melissa K. Stack, is essentially a revenge fantasy for any female with unresolved issues over a duplicitous relationship. Actually, it's closer to a dozen revenge fantasies, going back to earlier wish-fulfillers such as "The First Wives Club," "Thelma and Louise" and "Nine to Five." Like Mark, the filmmakers can't commit to any one revenge scenario, so they try doing it all, which, ironically, is the very thing that leads to Mark's downfall.
Slyness, slapstick and sex can often be mixed to amusing effect whatever the specifics — the original "Hangover," for example, did a credible job of it — but "The Other Woman" is ultimately undone by its indecision.
The film opens with two sophisticates — Mark and Carly (Diaz) — locked in the throes of late-night lust. The kind that requires heavy breathing and desperate groping, while pressed up against a handy wall. It suggests this may be their first time.
For a few weeks they date, flirt and wake up together in traditional rom-com style, their upscale polish captured in lovely montages by director of photography Robert Fraisse with the same affection he brought to "The Notebook."
Everything shifts when we see Mark going to bed with Carly one night and waking up with Kate (Mann). Kate, in a dowdy housecoat, is fussing over Mark's cholesterol levels. Caring, perhaps; sexy, no, as if to explain why Mark's such a naughty boy.
While the movie works to define the women, the filmmakers' indecision starts to chip away. Is Kate ditsy or brainy? Initially, Mann makes her wide-eyed, then weepy. But there are allusions that the ideas Mark converts into moneymakers are hers, not his.
Carly, in contrast, is a classy attorney at the top of her game. She is smart enough to keep the sassy Lydia as her secretary, a scene-stealing Nicki Minaj essentially playing a Nicki Minaj knockoff. But it's not long before the filmmakers start dumbing Carly down too. It's like the flu in this film, something that's going around.
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Questionable relationship advice from Carly's dad Frank (Don Johnson) leads to an awkward meeting between mistress and wife. The unsuspecting begin suspecting, which soon leads to teaming and scheming. Beware two women scorned.
And then there are three.
The takedown of the cheater involves Kate and Carly doing some silly sleuthing, which uncovers another other woman. Amber (Upton) registers high on the hot scale, but she's sweet, willing and soon enlisted.
The comic hijinks revolve around the trio's coordinated attacks — ruffling Mark's ego, riffling his business files, and working through their rage issues. The last one introduces Kate's cute contractor/brother Phil, Taylor Kinney playing it much cooler than his steamy "Chicago Fire" fighter on the popular NBC drama series.
Phil is the stand-in for all the stand-up guys in the world — he doesn't get much screen time. Even Mark is little more than an accessory. The focus is squarely on the women, though Upton's primary job is to rock a white bikini, which she does.
Diaz's character is older and wiser than the kind of rom-com innocent she played so well for so many years. The hair gel scene in "There's Something About Mary," the off-key karaoke in "My Best Friend's Wedding" head a long list of unforgettable moments that relied on Diaz's talent for making her characters seem guileless.
In the fortysomething world Diaz must now maneuver, adorable and innocent no longer work. The actress still has that mega-watt smile, but she hasn't got all the aging-gracefully kinks worked out of her comedy, as disappointing films like "Bad Teacher" and "Knight and Day" have demonstrated. "The Other Woman" is a better forum for her talents, but barely.
For Mann, the film is a good platform to show what she can do when she's not being featured in a film by her significant other, Judd Apatow. Here she's as much the star as Diaz. As Kate, the actress is far less tightly wound than usual and fearless in sacrificing any sense of decorum for a laugh. She gets most of the ones she goes for.
Being this kind of bad guy is no easy task for Coster-Waldau. The actor, such a wonderfully complicated antihero as Jaime Lannister in "Game of Thrones," struggles as the already slight Mark devolves into distasteful stereotypes. As do they all.
Eventually the getting even and dumbing down gets tiresome. Somewhere along the way, "The Other Woman" forgets how to have fun with a bad romance.
'The Other Woman'
MPAA rating: PG-13 on appeal for mature thematic material, sexual references and language
Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes
Playing: In general release