‘The Other Woman” is one of those loud, cringe-y female-empowerment comedies that feels like it was made by people who hate women. It’s about a trio of heroines who free themselves from their three-timing man by obsessing about him constantly and plotting revenge with laxatives in his cocktails and Nair in his shampoo. That the object of their ire is a stick-figure cad will probably add to the movie’s success: Audiences up for an evening of brain-dead entertainment can fill in the blank with whichever man they’re mad at. Better they should get mad at the movie, which paints women as dingbats, dummies, and scolds incapable of drawing a breath without a guy to validate them.
Granted, one of the characters, Carly Whitten (Cameron Diaz), is a power-lawyer of some kind — the camera keeps cutting to her firm’s nameplate — but we never see her do any work. She’s used to playing the field but as she explains to her secretary (pop-rapper Nicky Minaj, having some fun in the sarcastic-best-friend role), her hot and heavy romance with Mark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) has Carly convinced she has found the one.
Unfortunately, Mark has found two, or maybe more. Trying to surprise him at his suburban home, Carly meets his wife, Kate (Leslie Mann), whose emotions are as needy and splattery as Carly’s are controlled. Against all odds of logic or sanity, these two become best gal-pals, and when it’s revealed that Mark has yet another girlfriend, the bodacious young Amber (supermodel Kate Upton, looking awed to be in an actual movie with actual actors), Carly and Kate invite her into the wrecking crew.
It’s “The First Wives Club” rewritten for younger, less demanding audiences, or a “9 to 5” with absolutely nothing at stake. Coster-Waldau, who nuances the complexities of Jaime Lannister on “Game of Thrones,” doesn’t even get a part to play, since Mark is a generic smoothie who’s hardly worth the trouble. “The Other Woman” exists mostly to let steely Diaz and ditsy Mann go up against each other in labored slapstick drunk scenes, catfights, and boilerplate you-go-girl speechifying. Some of their revenge tactics have promise, like the female hormones Kate puts in Mark’s juice until he starts to grow breasts, but the movie quickly backs off from that before things get interestingly weird. Meanwhile Kate has a giant Great Dane she brings everywhere. It takes a poo on Carly’s floor. After a while, you feel like the movie’s taking a poo on your head.
For all the talk of independence and presence of Cyndi Lauper oldies on the soundtrack, “The Other Woman” seems terrified of sending its characters out on their own. Kate has a dreamy, sensitive construction worker brother (Taylor Kinney) to romance Carly, and Carly’s dad (Don Johnson) is an old horndog with eyes for Amber. The scene in which he takes them all to a restaurant where sultry Chinese waitresses massage their backs and feed them by hand will be hard to beat as the creepiest movie moment of 2014.
Yeah, a woman wrote it: Melissa Stack, whose unproduced script “I Want to [Expletive] Your Sister” was on the film industry’s must-read Black List back in 2007. And a woman produced it: Julie Yorn, who gave us the equally mean-spirited “Bride Wars.” What on earth do these two have against their own gender? It’s as though they conspired to come up with a movie specifically designed to flunk the Bechdel Test: 109 minutes in which the women do nothing but talk about a man.
For what it’s worth, a man directed: Nick Cassavetes, whose late father, John, made with Nick’s mother, actress Gena Rowlands, 1974’s “A Woman Under the Influence,” still one of the most devastating accounts of the pressures a woman, wife, and mother contends with. “The Other Woman,” by contrast, wants to be light comic entertainment — nothing wrong with that in theory but a humiliation for all concerned in the playing. You wish Cassavetes had figured out a way to write his mother in, as a voice of hard-won experience. Except then the story would implode from its own contradictions. Forget “The Other Woman” — find another movie.Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.