“The Other Woman,” a misbegotten pseudo-feminist revenge comedy, bears traces of a lineage that goes at least as far back as “The Women” and includes such now-near-classics as “9 to 5” and “The First Wives Club.” The premise — a group of wronged women confecting revenge on a caddish man — hews faithfully to Hollywood’s most cherished cake-and-eat-it proposition, wherein a film can make its female characters as shrewish, ditzy and cartoonishly desperate as it wants without fear of recrimination because, no matter how bad the gals look, the guys look worse.
That formula is taken to bizarre extremes in a movie that, despite presenting itself as a celebration of women’s solidarity, doesn’t seem to like women very much. “The Other Woman” stars Cameron Diaz as Carly, a no-nonsense, smokin’ hot Manhattan lawyer who discovers that her boyfriend, Mark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), is married. When Mark’s spacey wife, Kate (Leslie Mann), finally twigs to the affair, she shows up at Carly’s office and proceeds to collapse into a bundle of blubbering sobs. Unmoved, Carly orders her out, but Kate’s not finished: She’ll have at least a few more hysterically pitched scenes, often lubricated by copious helpings of white wine, tequila and/or vodka, quite possibly accompanied by shots of Reddi-wip administered straight from the can.
In case you’re wondering: Yes, you’ve seen that before. Just like you’ve seen the montage (set to, what else, Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”) in which a group of scorned women spike a guy’s smoothie with estrogen, replace his shampoo with Nair and muddle his cocktails with laxatives. “The Other Woman,” the unpromising screenwriting debut of Melissa Stack, seems to have been cobbled together from any number of other, not necessarily better, movies, resulting in a tonal mish-mash of scatology, physically contorting pratfalls and, only occasionally, genuinely observant behavioral comedy.
In what seems to be a feature-length limbo contest for cheap laughs, it’s difficult to decide where “The Other Woman” goes lowest: the shot of a Great Dane relieving itself on a pristine apartment floor or, later, a needlessly protracted sequence of Coster-Waldau relieving himself — over and over and over again — in a restaurant bathroom stall.
While it’s true that most of the movie’s weaknesses start with the script, the enterprise is made all the more wobbly by Nick Cassavetes’s unsure direction: The man who made such assured films as “She’s So Lovely,” “Alpha Dog” and “The Notebook” here veers way out of his element, awkwardly navigating the film’s physical comedy and never quite selling the empowerment that’s supposedly at its core. Kate Upton, the generously figured swimsuit model who plays Amber, one of Mark’s many mistresses, provides some luscious eye candy in “The Other Woman,” with her introductory scene on a Southampton beach recalling Bo Derek in “10.” Here, the sequence is played for sly laughs, as Diaz’s character, realizing she’s been bested by “a double-D lemon tart,” reflexively tries to outpace her rival in sexaphonic, slow-mo glory.
“I like that she’s super-hot,” Kate says later about the pretty, vacant Amber. “I feel like she brings up our group average.” That’s one of the best lines in “The Other Woman,” and one of the rare instances in which Mann is allowed to resemble something other than the endlessly nattering chatterbox she portrays — at an annoyingly hysterical pitch — through most of the movie. For her part, Diaz, so often the most underrated element of any film she’s in, lends a commendable degree of unforced, even slightly believable, warmth to a character who’s otherwise an icily forbidding stereotype.
Although “The Other Woman” nibbles around the edges of revealing truths about relationships, it leaves most of that potential behind, instead pursuing easy, exhausted cliches about zip-less marriages, upper class suburban drudgery, cynical careerism and dumb-but-sweet blondes. (Upton may not be able to act her way out of a paper bag, but the filmmakers are counting on audiences not looking at the bag.)
Somewhere inside all of “The Other Woman’s” tasteful interiors, posh seaside locales and slapstick stridency, there is a decent movie about female competition and friendship. Instead, viewers are treated to a movie as generic and forgettable as the sofa-size art on its characters’ walls.
PG-13. At area theaters. Contains mature thematic material, sexual references and profanity. 109 minutes.