- - Thursday, April 24, 2014

“The Other Woman” has a bit of an identity crisis. Is it a life-affirming story of women bonding under adverse circumstances, or a gross-out revenge comedy about infidelity?

This kind of muddle is a fairly ordinary condition of studio comedies these days, as directors and producers try to strike a balance between the coarse humor that does well at the box office with need for believable characters that audiences can identify with.

When this tension is well balanced, as in “Bridesmaids,” the comedy seems to flow from the story. When it is forced and ill-fitting, as in “The Other Woman,” the result can be uneven and off-putting.

Melissa Stack’s script is a kind of hybrid of “The First Wives Club” and the excellent 1930s all-female divorce comedy, “The Women,” and while it rarely lives up to its source material, the raw material for a solid date movie in the unromantic comedy vein are there.

Cameron Diaz plays Carly Whitten, a high-powered New York City lawyer whose bad luck on the dating scene seems to have turned around. She’s found a possible soulmate in slick, handsome businessman Mark King (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), but there’s just one catch: he’s married. In a funny twist, Carly and Kate King (Leslie Mann) meet when Carly tries to surprise Mark at his Connecticut home.

The improbable conceit, hard to maintain for too long, is that Kate is so scatter-brained and trusting that it takes her a while to absorb the reality that her husband is unfaithful.

Kate insists on pursuing a relationship with the more worldly and cynical Carly. Ms. Mann is a wonderful comic actress, with a particular gift for escalating emotional freakouts, which “The Other Woman” puts to good use.

Yet oddly enough for a movie with an avowedly feminist bent, the women muse about how Mark’s infidelity might be the product of poor grooming and a lack of sex appeal. Perhaps even more off kilter is the use of model Kate Upton to play Amber, yet another of Mark’s girlfriends.

Miss Upton is rather renowned for her swimsuit modeling, but less for her acting chops — and with good reason. Her role in the film, apart from a obvious if effective visual allusion to the Blake Edwards comedy “10,” is to serve as eye candy.

Mr. Coster Waldau, best known for his excellent work playing the rakish villain Jaime Lannister on “Game of Thrones,” does yeoman’s work here as a conceited, seedy Lothario. But the part of Mark is underwritten. His rakish villainy here lacks any particularity, and he’s mostly wasted as a comic foil for the ladies.

The movie spins out a revenge scenario that is rather disconnected and predictable, but manages to deliver crowd-pleasing doses of comeuppance. Ms. Mann is highly watchable at times and Miss Diaz throws herself into the part of the brittle, insensitive Carly. But the filmmakers never really make up their mind about who Kate really is. Here she’s ditzy and disjointed, there she’s vindictive and mistrustful, as is needed to suit whatever joke is playing out at the time.

 

TITLE: The Other Woman

CREDITS: Directed by Nick Cassavetes; Written by Melissa Stack

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