The Women (PG-13) *

 

Haven't we met these women before?

The Women
Meg Ryan, left, and Annette Bening are shown in a scene from "The Women". Photo: Claudette Barius.
 

By Rene Rodriguez, The Miami Herald

The women in The Women are wealthy New Yorkers who spend their days shopping, getting their nails done, gossiping, having lunch -- wait, does any of this sound scarily familiar? Writer-director Diane English (from TV's Murphy Brown) spent 13 years trying to get this remake of the 1939 George Cukor satire off the ground, and she managed to do it the same year Sex and the City became a movie. How's that for bad timing?

It might turn out to be good timing. Anyone who just can't wait for Sex and the City to hit DVD can just go see The Women and pretend they're watching the next installment in the franchise. You don't have to squint all that much to imagine the perky, heartbroken Mary (Meg Ryan), upset over her husband's infidelity, as a married version of Carrie; her older, single, career-oriented friend Sylvie (Annette Bening) as Samantha; the domesticated, family-driven Edie (Debra Messing) as Charlotte; and the brassy, opinionated Alex (Jada Pinkett Smith) as Miranda.

The rest of The Women is just as reminiscent of Sex and the City, including detours to fashion shows and visits to the offices of Vogue-style magazines, but without the contemporary insights or witty dialogue. English lifts entire chunks of text from the original film (itself based on a 1936 play) for some scenes, which often sounds incredibly dated (''There's a name for women like you, but it's rarely heard outside of a kennel.'') For most of the picture, though, English writes her own lines, but they rarely rise above sitcom level. Bad sitcom level. (``Don't be bitter. It leads to Botox.'')

Like the Cukor film, practically no males are ever seen in The Women, even though they are usually the subject of conversations, including yet one more tirade about men's channel-surfing habits or their tendency to drink straight from the milk carton, which is to chick flicks what slow-motion fireballs are to shoot-'em-ups. Although the original play was critical of its high-society snoots, The Women takes an affectionate view of its characters, turning them into a Saks Fifth Avenue sisterhood.

In supporting roles, Candice Bergen (as Mary's mom), Eva Mendes (as the other woman), Cloris Leachman (as Mary's maid) and Bette Midler (as a pothead talent agent) are all OK. Any of them, in fact, would have made more interesting heroines than the four leads, whose characters are so familiar the movie might have well been called The Types.

Bergen also gets the film's best line, delivered as she's sitting down to lunch with her daughter: ''I ordered you a gimlet. I know you don't drink in the afternoon, but you will eventually, so you might as well start now.'' That's good advice for anyone going to see The Women, too. It's not every movie that makes you wish Vin Diesel would run in and start blowing up stuff.

Cast: Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Debra Messing, Eva Mendes, Jada Pinkett Smith, Cloris Leachman, Candice Bergen, Debi Mazar, Carrie Fisher, Bette Midler

Writer-director: Diane English.

Producers: Victoria Pearman, Mick Jagger, Bill Johnson

A Picturehouse release. Running time: 110 minutes. Vulgar language, adult themes. Playing at area theaters.

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