Not so sweet

Film - Philip Kerr has no stomach for this indigestible, tasteless confection

Robert Greene was a poet and dramatist perhaps best known today for his associations with William Shakespeare.

It was Greene's poem "The Shepherd's Wife's Song" I was thinking of when I sat down to watch The Sweetest Thing, starring Cameron Diaz.

Ah! What is love! It is a pretty thing,
As sweet unto a shepherd as a king,
And sweeter too;
For kings have cares that wait upon a crown,
And cares can make the sweetest love to frown.
Ah then, ah then,
If country loves such sweet desires do gain,
What lady would not love a shepherd swain?

This is, I'm sure you will agree, a nice little poem, and well worth quoting in full.

Half an hour into the movie, however, I was no longer thinking of Greene's poem, but rather the manner of his death: Greene is said to have died of a surfeit of Rhenish wine and pickled herrings. This film, an uneasy combination of Sex and the City and There's Something About Mary, is no less indigestible than Greene's last meal and, for days afterwards, I found the coarser ingredients in its formulaic admixture repeating inside me like the cheapest German wine and the most recalcitrant herring. Even now, reflecting on the contents of Nancy Pimental's blatantly derivative script, I cannot help but recall the words of Thomas Nashe when he wrote of Greene that London's printers seemed only too glad "to pay him deare for the very dregs of his wit".

Christina, an advertising executive (Diaz) and Courtney, a lawyer (Christina Applegate) - neither of whom ever seem to do any work - are, somewhat improbably, friends with Jane (Selma Blair), a store clerk. All of them live in San Francisco and like the quartet of courtesans in Sex and the City, this trio of trollops are liberated dirty-talkers who get drunk and get laid with the same alacrity that is exhibited by the average sailor arriving back at Portsmouth after several months at sea. Naturally, love eludes these good-time girls in the same way that a sane man spurns a rabid dog; but instead of cleaning up their collectively rebarbative act, these charmless tarts study paperbacks on the rules of relationships, get drunk, get laid and then get drunk again, if only to excise the memory of the last person who bedded them.

Indeed, the vulgarity of these three women and their addictions to sex and alcohol leads me to suspect that the film is certain to be a tremendous hit with the many English women who holiday in Ibiza with a pint of lager in one hand and a packet of contraceptives in the other - the kind of women looking not for Mister Right so much as Mister Right Now.

One night at a club, Christina meets Peter (Thomas Jane) and when they speak, she's somewhat taken aback, and then intrigued to discover that he seems to understand her completely.

This is one of the least convincing parts of the movie, not because it is hard to imagine Thomas Jane understanding anything very much, least of all the dim Christina, but because in reality it is always impossible to have any kind of a conversation in a nightclub. Most people seem to go to clubs in order to avoid having a conversation with a member of the opposite sex, which would otherwise reveal them to be the morons they most probably are. Clubs are for dancing and getting pissed, and taking ecstasy, and establishing some kind of rudimentary, Cro-Magnon, skin-deep, nice-arse-nice-tits-nice-smile facsimile of a relationship between one oversexed disco drone and another.

At least, they were when I was still going to clubs.

Having lost Peter's telephone number, Christina follows him upstate to a wedding she knows he is due to attend. When she arrives, she discovers that the conspicuously overpriced and over-the-top nuptials being celebrated are his own. Christina's unexpected presence persuades not the thicky groom but his dippy bride that she is making a terrible mistake and what follows is the entirely predictable story of how these two balsa-wood characters get it together.

Whenever this half-baked narrative sags - as frequently it does - the writer and director reach for the jar marked Farrelly Brothers, and throw in something borrowed, something blue, something old but, sadly nothing new: a song about the size of men's penises; Christina and Courtney using a man's pissoir; a fellatio sequence that is as unbelievable as it is unfunny.

There are, it is true, perhaps one or two amusing moments. And, speaking as a man, I can never see too much of Cameron Diaz faking an orgasm or prancing about in her skimpy underwear; but it is hard to see how this movie will appeal to any woman with a brain.

Only recommended for female graduates of the University of Conde Nast.

The Sweetest Thing (15) is on release at selected cinemas nationwide

This article first appeared in the 02 September 2002 issue of the New Statesman, Show trial: the left in the dock