Tag Archives: D

THE OTHER WOMAN

Early in Nick Cassavetes’ chick-flick misfire, Cameron Diaz says, “I’m too old for this s**t.” Indeed she is. Not that the star isn’t still gorgeous. But the last time there was a movie about a bunch of females who bound together to take vengeance on an unfaithful cad who was two-timing them all—“John Tucker Must Die”—the conspirators were high-school coeds, and it seemed nutty even for girls of that age to get into such a tizzy over any guy, although he was the campus stud and sports star. In “The Other Woman” two of the trio are in their early forties, and the notion that at that age they’re still basically defining themselves in terms of their relationship to a man is demeaning to women generally, particularly since the movie is obviously aimed at them—and written by a woman to boot. (The man, it should be added, doesn’t seem like such a great catch in any event.)

But this is a film that’s insulting to women not only in those terms, but because it’s exploitative of them physically. It takes pains to show Diaz and another of the stars, Kate Upton, running around in bikinis as often as possible, leaving little to the imagination. One wonders how wives who bring their husbands (or girls their boyfriends) to the movie will react when their partners start drooling over these sequences.

Even apart from such considerations, “The Other Woman” is pretty awful. It begins with Carly Whitten (Diaz)—supposedly a powerful NYC attorney, though as far as we can see her only real distinction is an awesome wardrobe (at the beginning she’s handed a major merger to oversee, but that plot thread is completely dropped when the plot kicks in)—being involved with hunky hedge fund manager Mark King (Nikolas Coster-Waldau). When he’s called away to deal with a plumbing problem at his Connecticut house—missing an introduction her father (Don Johnson) in the process—she takes her dad’s advice to surprise him at his place in sexy garb. Unfortunately, when she arrives the door is answered by Mark’s mousy wife Kate (Leslie Mann).

This is the same preliminary set-up you might recall from last year’s “Baggage Claim”—or perhaps not, since it was little seen—but the script goes off in a different, though no less terrible, direction when gonzo Kate shows up at Carly’s office, making an embarrassing scene there before showing up at her apartment to ask for help against the man who’s wronged them both. The two decide to spy on Mark, only to discover there’s a third woman in his life—curvaceous young Amber (Upton), who as far as this viewer can discern has no job at all. When she finds out Mark’s been lying to her too, she joins forces with the older duo to punish him.

It would be dispiriting to go to undue lengths recounting what the women do; their schemes involve stuff like putting hair remover in Mark’s shampoo, adding laxatives and estrogen to his drinks and finally removing all the illegally-gotten funds he’s stored in off-shore accounts and informing his business partners of his malfeasance. It all ends in a gruesome final confrontation in which the guy winds up bloodied and financially ruined—a finale that, with its unpleasant level of violence, comes across as tonally off the charts.

But that’s just the culminating misstep in a movie that has plenty of them. Some ugly potty humor seems designed to exceed the notorious bit in “Dumb and Dumber,” and earlier on there’s a vomit scene that’s almost equally depressing. Slapstick moments, like one in which Diaz supposedly crashes onto a lawn from a second-storey window, literally fall flat. And the script is peppered with clichés of the genre that grate. A big, slobbering dog? Check. (And watch it urinate on a hardwood floor, too.) A wise-cracking secretary? Check. (And fill your need for diversity by having her played by Nicki Minaj.) A good new guy for Carly? Check—he’s Kate’s handsome, supportive brother Phil (Taylor Kinney), who couldn’t be sweeter. And needless to say, Johnson’s father figure is a charming philanderer working toward a sixth marriage. No prizes for guessing whom he’ll wind up with.

The performances jibe with the shabbiness of the material. Diaz is broad and curiously brusque, while Upton is pretty but dull. Minaj, Johnson and Kinney do what the script demands and nothing more, while Coster-Waldau exudes sleaze and endures humiliation several times over. Then there’s Mann, whose over-the-top mixture of primness and goofiness is irritating at first appearance, only to grow more and more annoying as the plot rolls on. The fact that we’re asked to accept the fact that Kate’s also a brilliant “idea person” takes implausibility to new heights. On the technical level “The Other Woman” is okay, though cinematographer Robert Fraisse gives the images a plastic gloss that marks sitcom style.

Numbingly stupid and uncommonly nasty, this is the sort of chick flick that gives chick flicks a really bad name.

UNDER THE SKIN

Jonathan Glazer began his directorial career with the high-strung “Sexy Beast,” which barreled along on the energy of Ben Kingsley’s high-octane performance, but then suffered a sophomore stumble with “Birth,” a lugubrious fable that might have had something to do with reincarnation but certainly took itself much too seriously. He sinks further with this even more funereal exercise in sci-fi topoi that aims to be mysterious but merely comes off as monotonous.

The big draw of “Under the Skin” is Scarlett Johansson, who literally bears it all as an unnamed woman who’s actually an extraterrestrial creature fashioned by a motorcycle-riding handler to seduce earthly males and lead them to their destruction. The purpose of the exercise isn’t entirely clear; perhaps the men are taken as test subjects for experimentation, perhaps they’re consumed as food. The screenplay by Glazer and Walter Campbell, adapted from Michael Faber’s novel, isn’t terribly clear about the details of that or very much else.

What’s shown is that the handler, who’s apparently arrived in a spaceship we see slowly coming into view in the opening scene, begins the process by either killing a hooker or finding her dead, and taking the body to the ship, where Johansson dresses herself in the prostitute’s clothes. Cut to the streets of various Scottish cities, where she’s driving around in a van, accosting men she happens upon with innocuous requests for directions before inviting some of them for a ride and taking them to an isolated location, where she strips, invites them to do likewise, and then leads them into a sea of oily liquid into which they sink while she walks none too demurely over the surface. A sort of variety is provided by a sequence in which she introduces herself to a swimmer on a near-vacant beach, only to conk him on the noggin after he returns exhausted from a vain effort to rescue a couple that have somehow gotten swept up in the choppy waves. He’s then carted off, presumably to his soupy fate, along with an infant that’s been left wailing on the beach by the drowned couple. One has to assume it’s chucked into the goo, too—an unsavory grace note.

The woman’s attitude changes, however, when she induces a disfigured man into her van, only to let the fellow escape the ooze when he’s at point of demise. (Her handler, as it happens, will rectify her act of rebellion.) Now she goes on the run. Disoriented, she’s taken in by a kindly man for a time but ultimately falls afoul of a brutal one. It’s difficult to discern whether the point of all this is that we’re all—earthlings and aliens—alike under the skin in that we’re capable of empathy, or in that we’re capable of cruelty. Or perhaps the point is that we’re susceptible to both. In any case that’s not a terribly sophisticated message, nor a very enlightening one.

But Ward doesn’t appear to be interested in conveying anything of substance; he obviously considers himself a visual artist with dreams of being hailed as a new Kubrick or Antonioni. Even on those terms, however, his film is a grave disappointment. There are occasional striking images, but for the most part they’re little better than accidental. For most of its running-time, and especially in the exteriors, “Under the Skin” comes off as lackadaisically, even carelessly shot (the cinematographer is Daniel Landin), and even the more evocative interior moments—those set within the dank, cavernous ship with its beckoning sea, where we see the victims suspended in the liquid until they…well, I won’t ruin the effect—don’t manage to achieve the sense of wonder the makers are obviously straining for. (It doesn’t help that they’re accompanied by a throbbing electronic score, full of thuds, squeals and wails, that’s meant, one supposes, to suggest heartbeats.)

Those of us who dismiss “Under the Skin” as an exercise in pretentious vacuity will probably be seen by its enthralled advocates as philistines incapable of appreciating its poetry and soulfulness. Perhaps so, but at least we’re able to recognize such simple virtues as comprehensibility and solid construction that Glazer’s movie conspicuously lacks. This is the sort of film that should have the word “cult” stamped onto the canisters containing the reels.