There are only three groups who should willingly sit through The Women: females who nightly juggle TMZ.com, Haagen Dazs and Lifetime while wrapped in a quilt; plastic surgeons looking to stay current; and adherents of the ''life'' guru Eckhart Tolle whose mantra ''What Do I Want?'' (no doubt currently pending copyright) triggers the movie's ''turning point'' (along with a montage that is the visual equivalent of fingernails on a blackboard).
The rest of us will be reaching for the seatback sick bag, for without doubt The Women is destined for the mile-high club where the effects of thin air, alcohol and red-eye fatigue might just make it preferable to viewing the aisle carpeting. Of course it would hardly warrant comment if this remake of George Cukor's 1939 classic, involving socialites sent into turmoil over the news that one woman's husband is cheating, was just another log of ''chick'' sausage dropping from Hollywood's indefatigable sphincter.
The Women: Meg Ryan and Annette Bening
But it is not. Though covered in a deep-pile fluff of female bonding paraded proudly in contrast to the cattiness of the original, this movie is far, far more insidious to womankind. It's not the string of aren't-we-so-clever one-liners channeling through the characters like the work of a multi-tasking Devil. In fact, those could have been a lot edgier and funnier. No, rather it is screenwriter/director Diane English taking it upon herself to inform us of a ''modern'' woman's worth.
With the smug bravado of a Boomer-centric Cosmo article brought to life, English delivers her edict: women who care for their children, do their own gardening, fail to show off their bodies, leave their hair wild and don't cultivate personal stridency are the losers. So are women who work perfume counters as ''spritzer girls.'' On the other hand, women with hard-line bodies, hard-line hair, gads of hard-line ''me'' time (away from those distractions that squeeze out after nine months of making you ''fat'') and the money to invest in adorning even skinnier, harder and younger women, are the winners. Winners demand female adoration. Winners deserve husbands. This view is so '80s it needs legwarmers and a headband.
As the betrayed Mary Haines, Meg Ryan, currently sporting a wax-work face and lips big enough to serve as gills, plays her usual persona/self, this time in a giant brick house in Connecticut with staff. Ryan continues to cling, rather aggressively, to her slightly tarnished crown as America's Sweetheart, seeing fit to puff her resume with the claim that she can suck nails from a board. With all her trademark cuteness and prowess abounding, we never really get why her husband strays. Being English's world, though, we are left to assume it was the home-made tortellini.
Encircling Meg in varying degrees of estrogen are Annette Bening as Sylvia doing her best Devil Wears Prada with a heart, Jada Pinkett Smith, miscast as a black lesbian author (just look at all the boxes ticked with that one!), and Debra Messing, wasted as an utterly unexplained, wealthy, neo-bohemian mom. Occasionally in orbit is Candace Bergen as Ryan's elegant but hard-boiled mom. Despite a forehead smoother than a baby's bottom, she is the only one of this ensemble with any comic timing or personality. Similar greatness should have come from veteran Cloris Leachman as Mary's housekeeper, but her lines come out flatter than Connecticut roadkill. Inhabiting the stockest role of all is Eva Mendes as the mistress. She vamps with the kind of resigned Maxim-aplomb that says ''chick movie or man movie, they all gotta have one of me.''
With cardboard cut-outs in place, the movie, like so many today, proceeds as a series of perfunctorily linked sketches designed not to develop character, plot or comedic insight, but to amplify celebrity moments. When we are forced to watch Mary eating a stick of butter because she can't find any junk food and then later telling Bette Midler (don't even ask) not to ''Bogart'' a joint, it is Ryan on screen, not Mary living her life. We don't know Mary and we never will.
It all pales in comparison to the ramifications of the barely sketched subplot involving Mary's increasingly neglected, possibly anorexic pre-teen daughter. Here English spells out her nastiest message of all. It comes in the form of Sylvia explaining the need for super-models as ''complicated,'' it comes as the girl ''out-bitches'' her dad's mistress, it comes as her mother Mary's models fill the runway with blood red fabric flapping off skin and bone: women owe each other nothing, least of all the truth.