Attack of the harpies

Girls Town and The First Wives Club celebrate female vengeance

You know The First Wives Club is a Hollywood rush job because two very resourceful comic actresses--Stockard Channing and Maggie Smith--are granted slim duties, but just enough screen time to make us painfully aware of their underuse. Both Channing and Smith have created more memorable bitches on the international stage, TV, and movie screens than any of the three leads, with the exception of the monstrously eclectic Midler. Channing commands the first five minutes of screen time as the suicide; she makes her mark in a gutsy cameo. Smith, on the other hand, pops up in truncated scenes that elicit strong laughs on the strength of her sloping, cow-eyed drollness alone. She's a consummate British character actress who's generously made herself available to American commercial cinema; for God's sake, even Sister Act capitalized on Maggie Smith's bedraggled dignity better than The First Wives Club, which purports to celebrate such female eccentricity.

The First Wives Club. Paramount Pictures. Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton. Written by Robert Harling and Paul Rudnick. Directed by Hugh Wilson. Opens September 20.

Girls Town. October Films. Lili Taylor, Anna Grace, Brucklin Harris. Written by Jim McKay, Denise Casano, Anna Grace, Brucklin Harris, Lili Taylor. Directed by Jim McKay. Opens September 20.

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