"The Women' is pure chick flick

The Women (PG-13)

2 out of 4 stars

Looking less like director George Cukor's 1939 movie or Clare Boothe Luce's original play and more like a sexless "Sex and the City," "The Women" aims squarely at the older, "SATC" cosmo-chic female demographic and scores a thudding bull's-eye.

In lieu of partying, carnal conversation and semi-edgy commentary, "The Women" is content with wallowing in mid-life crisis platitudes and jilted-wife fallout. Like "SATC," "The Women" isn't nearly as funny as it should or could have been and at approximately two hours, running at least 30 minutes too long.

Meg Ryan takes the lead as Mary, a Connecticut housewife and mother who could easily be Carrie Bradshaw's more sensible older sister. Dedicated more to keeping up social appearances than tending to her daughter's impending adolescence or her always off-screen husband's needs, Mary can't quite believe it when she finds out (through a manicurist) that her hubby is cheating on her.

This juicy bit of news comes after it was first delivered by the same messenger to Sylvia (Annette Bening), effectively the Miranda to Mary's Carrie. Instead of sex, the spinster Sylvia is driven by making it as the editor of an upstart glossy fashion magazine and isn't keen on accepting helpful advice from anyone.

Though billed as an all-star female ensemble, the rest of the cast (save for Cloris Leachman as Mary's wise housekeeper and Eva Mendes as home-wrecker Crystal) are regulated to glorified and/or extended cameos. Seniors Candice Bergen and Bette Midler offer up sage advice at just the right time, but Debra Messing as a perpetually pregnant Pollyanna and Jada Pinkett Smith as a semi-rebellious lesbian are given little more to do than provide momentary distraction.

As with the "SATC" movie, "The Women" is a set of back-to-back sitcom episodes that takes on noticeably different tones. The first and the third are the lightest and least satisfying and it is the middle stretch which takes the most chances. This is where adapter and first-time director Diane English relaxes a bit, lets the material flow and doesn't cram too much dialogue into too little space.

One of the few bright spots of the movie is watching Ryan inhabit a character that fits her modest talents - and age. Instead of trying to "stretch" ("In the Cut") or trying to return to her girl-next-door glory days, Ryan approaches the role with effortless efficiency. Ironically, it is the usually sturdy Bening who seems, not so much miscast, but certainly straining. Her character starts off uptight, progresses to unappealing and eventually into something resembling resigned. It's not what we've come to expect from her.

The setting, cast and plot makes it abundantly clear this is pure chick flick stuff. Until a baby cries in the final scene, there's not a single male speaking role - or visual - in the entire film. "SATC" at least had the forethought of tending to that sliver of slip-over male demographic that could have tolerated this as a fall-on-the-sword date movie. All anyone has to do here to determine whether or not the movie is for them is to read the title. (Picturehouse)