In The Sweetest Thing, Cameron Diaz teases, flirts, seduces, and dares to act the fool, all as a way of declaring her love to the most desirable person on screen: herself. As Christina, a San Francisco It Girl with a rockin’ bod that appears composed entirely of rotating joints, Diaz spends the movie haplessly pursuing a guy she talked to for 10 minutes at a nightclub, but there’s really only the thinnest pretense that this is the man of her dreams.
She looks happiest when she’s plugged into the socket of her own sexiness — dancing solo, for instance, her luxe lamé hair spilling over her shoulders, her butt gyrations designed to highlight the sloping curve at the back of her waist that’s become her signature as surely as Britney Spears’ tawny belly.
”The Sweetest Thing,” a girls-rule! gross-out comedy pretending to be a romantic comedy, is a movie in which laughter and self-exploitation merge into jolly soft-porn ”empowerment.” At one point, Christina, along with her best bud, Courtney (Christina Applegate), strips down to her underwear by the side of the road and does a singalong shimmy to ”Escape (The Piña Colada Song).” It’s supposed to be campy, but who’s kidding whom? It’s really a chance for Cameron Diaz to parade her charms with mock attitude in a skimpy stars-and-stripes bra. Is she playing to the guys in the audience or to the girls?
Here’s the trick: She’s playing to both. ”The Sweetest Thing” is full of gags that are more tasteless than funny (Courtney relieves herself in a urinal; a pouch of maggoty food gets tossed out a car and boomerangs back onto the windshield). In this case, though, the grunge jokes become the backdrop for an exercise in Extreme Screwball. Diaz, as a role model for trash-chic postfeminist girls, struts her stuff like a Maxim pinup and, at the same time, gets down in the gutter just enough to prove that she can turn the tables on any given drooler.
None of which makes ”The Sweetest Thing” a very good movie. It was directed by Roger Kumble, whose first film, ”Cruel Intentions,” had the wit to treat teen sleaze with backstabbing classical vengeance. The new movie, written by ”South Park” veteran Nancy M. Pimental, is a debased cartoon by comparison, though a couple of the scenes do allow young women, in the wake of ”American Pie” and a hundred movies like it, some equal-opportunity bottom-feeding. If you thought that Monica Lewinsky’s dress was a scandal, just wait till you see the one that Jane (Selma Blair), Christina’s romantically challenged other friend, brings — in the film’s most crudely escalating laugh — to her dry cleaner.
The central romance is, quite simply, an embarrassment, mostly because Peter (Thomas Jane), whom Christina spends the majority of the film stalking to a wedding, comes off as a bland version of the young Kevin Costner sporting Huey Lewis’ dimples. Cameron Diaz never lets you forget that she’s the sweetest thing in ”The Sweetest Thing.” Then again, why spoil a perfect love affair?