Maybe another movie will come along like “Bridesmaids” that pairs funny women with an actual plot. Until then, “The Other Woman” joins “The Heat” and similar wannabes in wasting legitimate comedic chemistry on ’80s sitcom formulas.
Underrated comedian Leslie Mann partners with the often formidable Cameron Diaz, and they succeed for a good hour at empowering this buddy comedy with plausible doses of humor and sorrow. Then it shifts into a mean-spirited, dopey revenge fantasy.
How dopey? Name five ways a scorned wife in a bad movie might torment her philandering husband. Chances are, you guessed everything here. Did you start with lacing his scotch with an industrial-strength laxative?
But let’s back up to happier times: the film’s laugh-filled first act. Diaz stars as Carly, a frosty power attorney whose office overlooks the best view in Manhattan. Despite being the proverbial “whole package,” Carly has only been dog-paddling in the dating pool.
That is until meeting Mark (Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau of “Game of Thrones”), a successful investor who apparently adores her.
When she pays a surprise visit to his Connecticut home, she’s stunned to learn he’s married. Not quite as stunned as his wife, Kate (Mann), a needy yet charmingly naive housewife who has been living in Mark’s shadow for years. Floored by the news of his infidelity — and possibly having a seizure — she pursues Carly in a quest to find out the truth.
“You had sex with my husband 50 times? Don’t you have a job? Or hobbies?” she asks.
Through sheer willpower, Kate becomes friends with the reluctant mistress. They bond over their shared misery which turns to fury.
As they do reconnaissance on Mark, they realize he has an even younger blond mistress, Amber (swimsuit model Kate Upton — way out of her comedic depth here).
Spotting Amber’s bikini bod on the beach, Carly quips, “She makes me look like I’m wearing a diaper.”
So the three unite to take down their common enemy.
Up until this point, “The Other Woman” shines. Nobody portrays ditzy, offbeat pathos like Mann (“This Is 40”), who can pretty much do everything: improvise, cry, play drunk, be sexy, be gross. It all seems effortless. She gets a strong partner in the poised Diaz, who proved in “There’s Something About Mary” she’s also up for anything when it comes to in-your-face humor.
But few movies have gone off the rails on a crazy train more disastrously than this comedy. First-time screenwriter Melissa K. Stack starts with a solid hook. As soon as her focus shifts to payback, the film loses the sisterhood bonding feel it worked so hard to establish.
Also culpable is director Nick Cassavetes (“The Notebook”), who could have easily excised two minutes spent watching Mark wrestle with a “fecal incident.” Or cut out a few of the noisy pratfalls that cheapen the climax. Or removed the slapdash end tags that explain what becomes of the characters as the credits roll.
Hammering home this lack of cinematic integrity is a soundtrack that dispenses only the most obvious music cues, from the “Mission: Impossible” theme during a surveillance outing to “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” during a scene in which girls have fun. When the women return to New York City from the Bahamas, Frank Sinatra starts crooning, “Start spreading the news.” As if anyone needs clarification this is Manhattan and not Nassau. Perhaps the swirling shots of the Statue of Liberty aren’t lazy enough.
Early in the film, Carly’s assistant (pop diva Nicki Minaj) chides her boss: “I don’t know why you work so hard. The best part about being pretty is you don’t have to.”
That also sums up the filmmakers’ strategy. With this cast, just sit back, relax and let them put in all the effort.