- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2008

“What do you think this is,” Mary Haines asks exasperatedly in the new remake of “The Women.” “Some kind of 1930s movie?”

If only.

Those looking for a witty take on the war between the sexes - and the war within the sexes - should stick to the original, the 1939 film directed by George Cukor and based on the play by Clare Boothe. This new film is something else entirely, not even “The Women” Lite but rather “Sex and the City” Lite.

As in the original, the cast is female-only, and we never see the men who mess up their lives. Meg Ryan is Mary Haines, whose blissful ignorance about her marriage is shattered when she hears from a Saks manicurist that her husband is having an affair with Crystal Allen (a seriously sultry Eva Mendes), a girl from the perfume counter.

Her friends heard the news ages before. Sylvia Fowler (Annette Bening) is a regular at Saks, and she couldn’t resist divulging such juicy gossip to Edie Cohen (Debra Messing, who looks an awful lot like the original’s Rosalind Russell), who in turn couldn’t resist telling Alex Fisher (Jada Pinkett Smith).

Sylvia, a high-powered magazine editor, and Edie, a mother of a handful and counting, think it’s best to keep the news to themselves, but Alex, a blocked writer who’s dating a (female) supermodel, pushes them to tell their friend the truth.

They’re shocked when they learn that Mary already knows. Her mother (Candice Bergen, who also played Miss Ryan’s mother in the latter’s film debut, “Rich and Famous,” directed by none other than George Cukor) advised Mary to keep quiet to keep her husband. Only the French do that these days, Sylvia insists, and it doesn’t take long for the Jungle Red claws to be out.

The new film isn’t nearly as droll as the original, but with so many attempts, it hits the bull’s-eye a few times. “There’s nothing like a heavy dose of his mistress to make a man miss his wife,” Miss Bergen counsels, while Miss Mendes remarks, “I do know a woman never steals another woman’s husband. They usually go willingly.”

The problem isn’t just the flat script by director and “Murphy Brown” creator Diane English. It’s that this film’s raison d’etre seems to be not to entertain, but to sell. “The Women” doesn’t have just the usual glimpses of high-fashion logos; it has perhaps the worst examples of product placement on film in quite some time. While Sylvia writes a letter, a bottle of Dove moisturizer sits prominently on her desk the whole time. (The company gets a “very special thanks” in the credits.)

To make room for the clothes and cosmetics, characters get short shrift. “The Women” mimics “Sex and the City” by having four main characters, but two of them disappear for most of the movie.

It’s a shame, because Miss Messing has real comedic talents, while the sexy and fiery Miss Smith is the best thing about a bland movie. Oh, she and the glorious fashions designed for the runway show by Narciso Rodriguez. That scene, I admit, actually rivals that of the original. While fashions have changed, though, human nature has not. You’ll learn a lot more about it by watching the original 70-year-old film.


TITLE: “The Women”

RATING: PG-13 (Sex-related material, language, some drug use and brief smoking)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Diane English, based on the play by Clare Boothe and the 1939 film by Anita Loos and Jane Murfin

RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes

WEB SITE: thewomenthemovie.com


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