By Leah Rozen
April 15, 2002 12:00 PM

village, Kate surprises herself by beginning a steamy affair with Jed (Doughty), a 25-year-old former student. Her two best women friends, a doctor (Chancellor) and a police inspector (Staunton), react with spiteful envy, going to cruel extremes to sabotage the lovebirds.

With friends like these, who needs enemies? That’s Crush’s weak spot: First-time writer-director John McKay fails to make a persuasive case for the malice of these two. Nor does he explain why, after they pull a particularly vicious trick, Kate would ever speak even a word to them again. In its early scenes, though, Crush amuses with several genial female-bonding moments, and MacDowell and Doughty’s courtship is sweet. All three actresses perform incisively, and Doughty is touching as the ardent swain. But what starts off as frothy fun soon curdles. (R)

Bottom Line: Starts hot, cools quickly