The Sweetest Thing

The plot of “The Sweetest Thing” is as follows: A woman meets a man whom she dismisses, then wonders, “What if?” On a romantic whim, she acts on what little information she has about him and attempts to track him down.

It is possible this sounds familiar to you. Not six months ago, it was John Cusack pursuing Kate Beckinsale this way in “Serendipity,” and just before that, Lance Bass was stalking Emmanuelle Chriqui in “On the Line.” It’s an old romantic-comedy plot, and believe me, it has not been improved any in “The Sweetest Thing,” which is altogether a rather rancid film.

For “The Sweetest Thing” has attempted to mix its genres. It takes the predictability of the romantic comedy, mixes it with the contrived highway mayhem of the road-trip movie, and throws in the people-who-unwittingly-ingest-disgusting-things of the teen gross-out flick. It is a goulash made of leftovers that weren’t good to begin with.

This is a shame, for its two female stars, Cameron Diaz and Christina Applegate, make a believable, likable pair of friends. Applegate apparently learned a few things about comedy while in the purgatory of “Married … with Children,” for she has flair and timing. Diaz has neither of those things, but she is cute and cuddly, and folks seem to like her, what with her puckish blue eyes and gargantuan mouth. Together, they have the familiarity and banter of old friends.

They play Christina and Courtney, two San Francisco gals who like to play around with guys and dump them when things get serious. They have a third friend, Jane (Selma Blair), who is in the movie only to pad out the running time. Her plotline — she meets a guy and has sex with him — is separate from the main thread, and her scenes are limited to one bad “Saturday Night Live”-style sketch after another.

Anyway, it’s Christina (Diaz) who meets a handsome fellow named Peter (Thomas Jane) at a club and then decides to chase him, with Courtney along for moral support. On the way, the women endure much humiliation in a public restroom and at a wedding, among other places. It is all accompanied by awkward physical comedy and worn-out jokes such as exploding toilets and foul-mouthed old people (courtesy of an elderly man who looks like Elmer Fudd).

Former TV star Jason Bateman (“The Hogan Family,” “Silver Spoons”) appears in this film, but he gets puked on, so it’s OK.

It is stunning that a film of only 84 minutes can be so grotesquely padded. Scenes dealing with the central plot occupy maybe 30 minutes; scenes of Jane and her sexual hijinks take another 15 or so. The rest is pure, unadulterated tangent — fine for a farcical spoof like “Airplane!,” but not for a romantic comedy, or whatever this thing thinks it is. The little skits and self-referential asides are startlingly out-of-place in a film of this nature.

It is written by Nancy M. Pimental, who used to work on “South Park,” and directed by Roger Kumble, who gave us “Cruel Intentions” and its direct-to-video sequel. It will do nothing for either of their careers, for it displays all the worst tendencies of bad writers as well as of bad directors. Only the charisma of the actresses saves it, and even that just barely.

D+ (; R, frequent harsh profanity, abundant sexual vulgarity and crude humor, some strong sexual situations, brief partial nudity.)