The Best Revenge

HELL HATH NO FURY LIKE THREE women scorned--and organized for revenge. That's the premise of The First Wives Club, a farcical rendition of Olivia Goldsmith's 1992 best seller that brings together Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton and Bette Midler. Mud will be flung tonight, as Bette used to say, and these three powerhouse comediennes toss up a fairly delightful mess.

As three well-heeled New Yorkers of a certain age, they discover they share a woeful fate: all have been replaced in their husbands' affections by younger trophy girlfriends. Separately, they get mad; as a team, they get even. Written by Robert (""Steel Magnolias'') Harling and directed by Hugh (""Police Academy'') Wilson, the comedy doesn't have a subtle bone in its garishly clad body, but why should it? We're here for catty one-liners, movie-star camaraderie and fur-flying vengeance, and, in spite of a regrettable wimpiness that creeps in toward the end, that's what we get.

The three stars do not disappoint. Hawn gets to have the most fun as a vain, surgically enhanced, alcoholic actress whose smarmy producer husband (Victor Garber) has traded her in for the nubile Elizabeth (""Showgirls'') Berkley. Hawn has played this youth-obsessed peacock before, in ""Death Becomes Her,'' and she just gets better at it. Keaton is sneakily funny as the ""nice'' one, the doormat who deludes herself that her s.o.b. (Stephen Collins) will return. Rage catches this genteel woman unawares, and Keaton is wonderfully torn between the pain and the joy of it. Midler, of course, has no such compunction about venting at her sleaze-bucket husband (Dan Hedaya), his social-climbing chippy (Sarah Jessica Parker) or her pals in the club. (""She looks like a quilt'' is her assessment of Goldie's much-lifted visage.) At hurling verbal darts, nobody's aim is truer. As a bonus, this eager-to-please movie throws in Maggie Smith, Bronson Pinchot and a cameo by Ivana Trump. It's a more-the-merrier kind of comedy, and even when it's decidedly too much, it stays merry.

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