There are any number of ways you could tell a story about a cheated-upon wife who teams up with her husband’s two mistresses to bring the lying bastard down: you could shoot for wit and sophistication, or explore female bonding in a patriarchal world, or have lots of goofy girl-power montages set to obvious pop songs, or treat the villainous cad like Wile E. Coyote in a series of grotesque and scatological slapstick bits.
Or, if you’re director Nick Cassavetes making “The Other Woman,” you could do all of those things in rapid succession, resulting in a romantic comedy whose healthy share of laughs gets lost amidst the schizophrenic shifts in tone. If the film were 20 minutes longer, it might have found the time to become a musical and a horror movie, too.
Tough-as-nails lawyer Carly (Cameron Diaz) thinks she’s found true love with slick, handsome financier Mark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, “Game of Thrones”). Carly’s assistant Lydia (Nicki Minaj, in a delightful, surprising performance) notes that this is the first guy that her boss has ever referred to by his given name and not a disparaging sobriquet.
Alas, Mark turns out to be too good to be true; he’s actually married to Kate (Leslie Mann), whom he’s forced to be a stay-at-home wife while he goes out and makes the money. Carly discovers this when she drops by their house, and Kate immediately figures out that she’s been betrayed. Despite the cynical Carly’s initial refusal to do so, she and Kate become soul sisters, with Carly providing Kate with savvy advice and a shoulder to cry on.
When Kate and Carly figure out that Mark is stepping out on both of them with curvy Amber (Kate Upton), they befriend the young woman and clue her into Mark’s chicanery before the three of them team up to destroy his personal and professional lives. (No garden-variety adulterer, Mark is also scamming investors in a company that is, originally unbeknownst to her, in Kate’s name.)
So far, so “9 to 5,” with Mr. Perfects waiting in the wings for Carly — Kate’s brother Phil (Taylor Kinney), a rugged contractor with piercing eyes and beachfront property — and Amber. But it’s hard to take the material seriously when heartfelt moments give way to explosive diarrhea gags that are followed by people wackily falling out of windows.
First-time screenwriter Melissa Stack clearly likes her female characters, and Mann and Diaz dig into the frothy material, finding interesting shadings and gamely playing the comedy with all the verbal and physical daring they can muster. Too often, unfortunately, their efforts are undercut by too many montages featuring on-the-nose musical choices (“Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” the themes to “New York, New York” and “Mission: Impossible”) or by chick-flick clichés (so many drunk scenes, so many shoes).
Once “The Other Woman” trots out the gigantic, slobbering, non-house-trained Dalmatian for laughs, you can sense that somebody (maybe Cassavetes, maybe some studio dolt passing down unnecessary notes) didn’t trust that the women and their relationships could carry the story on their own. Or maybe they just learned the wrong lessons from “Bridesmaids” and decided that there really, really needed to be laxatives brought into play.
A smiling Cameron Diaz and a weeping Leslie Mann bring a lot to any movie, but they aren’t enough to overcome the mix-and-match mania of these proceedings. Girls just wanna have fun, but they’d also like a coherent night at the movies.