‘Other Woman’ at its best when Leslie Mann swings her slapstick

Although officially top-lined by Cameron Diaz, “The Other Woman” is actually an outrageous instance of highway robbery perpetrated by co-star Leslie Mann. With antic energy that borders on the demented, Mann grabs whatever acreage is available at any given moment and starts swinging around with a giant slapstick.

It may be the scorched-earth approach to comedy, but it is funny, especially in the early going. Until its already far-fetched plot crosses the line into out-and-out sadism and too many girl-power high-fives, the film definitely conjures up some laughs.

Diaz is the other woman, a high-powered but overly cool lawyer whose two-month affair with a hotshot (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau, “Game of Thrones”) ends abruptly. Mann, who is married to the guy, is understandably surprised to see the other woman knocking on her front door one night.

Unwitting mistress and unsuspecting wife begin an unlikely friendship, in a series of screwball scenes that constitute the movie’s high points. Any residual enmity ends when they realize that the ne’er-do-well they have in common already has another girlfriend, this one in the form of a much younger woman (“Sports Illustrated” swimsuit model Kate Upton).

He’s spending a beachside getaway with her, a scene that leads to one of Diaz’s best moments, as she furiously gives slow-motion chase to her new nemesis. Upton is not an actress, but her job here is to occupy bikini-space and look concerned, which she does. She even has a couple of neutral-sounding lines — “I think it’s just sweat,” is one — that sound pretty funny in context.

But Leslie Mann is all over this movie. Once a funny actress in her own right, she’s been overshadowed a little in recent years by her status as Mrs. Judd Apatow, appearing in most of his movies and taking big roles in “This Is 40” and “Funny People.”

Whatever else it does, “The Other Woman” is a reminder that Mann is a zany and inventive performer when turned loose outside her husband’s comedy world. Director Nick Cassavetes (“The Notebook”) seems content to let Mann and Diaz romp around like perfect fools.

We should also mention a supporting turn by music star Nicki Minaj, who is something of a visual punch line herself (but boasts an amusingly droll delivery as well).

It gets pretty screechy, and attempts to add soulfulness with sensitive songs and long looks into the ocean are clumsy. But if you’ve been waiting to see women get into Jim Carrey territory, this could be your movie.

“The Other Woman” (two and a half stars)

An unwitting mistress (Cameron Diaz) becomes friends with an unsuspecting wife (Leslie Mann), the better to plot against the man they share. Until the movie veers into too many girl-power high-fives, there’s some funny slapstick here — especially from an over-the-top Mann.

Rating: PG-13 for subject matter

Opening: Friday at Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre Mountlake Terrace, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood Cinema, Pacific Place, Sundance Cinemas Seattle, Thorton Place Stadium, Woodinville, Blue Fox Drive-In, Cascade Mall.

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