Susan Seidelman’s She-Devil tries to be a lot of things: a feminist satire, a trenchant black comedy, a little-guy-beats-the-system feel-good flick. But in the end, it’s mostly notable as another chapter in the decline of a once-promising director. Which is too bad, because the raw material for a really good movie was there. Fay Weldon’s novel The Life and Loves of a She-Devil previously spawned a superior British TV miniseries. The story’s premise — spurned housewife exacts extremely crafty revenge on faithless husband and rich bimbo lover — is the kind of deliciously nasty fantasy anyone can relate to. And the performers (especially Meryl Streep, who’s unexpectedly sexy and funny as the other woman) are first-rate.

But Seidelman, perhaps taking a cue from the larger-than-life persona of Roseanne Barr, has chosen to stage the picture as the most obvious sort of live-action cartoon. The characters are gross, unlikable caricatures, and the plot is driven almost entirely by coincidence. Worse, the directorial style is straight from the school of Generic Spielberg; add a little PG gore and this would be visually indistinguishable from less ambitious junk like Goonies or Explorers.

Given She-Devil‘s consistently dopey tone, it seems likely Seidelman decided the original story’s cerebral ironies would be too much for a mass audience and substituted cheap sitcom laughs instead. C

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