WOULDN’T it be great if Hollywood stopped retiring actresses once they reached the decrepit heights of 35? Not if the only films they are offered are on a par with Book Club.

Let us get this into perspective. This romantic comedy about four women moved to put the spark back into their lives after reading 50 Shades of Grey is not evil. It won’t harm the planet, it doesn’t exploit child labour or any of that other grim stuff. At times, bless it, the film even tries to escape the prison full of cliches it builds around itself. Harmless enough, then.

But for all its tameness it is still lazy, woefully predictable and an insult to the intelligence of its cast and the female audience it is courting, and that is a shame. If this is the future for actresses of a certain age they should head for the hills now or, better still, buy a laptop and get busy writing their own stuff. Only Showgirls on Ice could be worse than this pseudo feminist bilge.

Bill Holderman, the writer of A Walk in the Woods screenplay and here making his directorial debut, begins as he means to go on with some badly mocked up photos of the titular club’s members through the 40 years they have been meeting.

Before the silliness starts the screenplay by Holderman and Erin Simms is keen to establish that these are all serious, successful women. Vivian (Jane Fonda) is a rich hotelier, Sharon (Candice Bergen) a senior judge, Carol (Mary Steenburgen) a noted restaurateur, and Diane (Diane Keaton) was a stay at home mum and is now fending off over-protective daughters who want her to come and live with them.

So to the book club. Bored by some recent choices, Vivian suggests they try 50 Shades of Grey, EL James’s sex and spanking fantasy. There follows some regulation scoffing, but after a while, what do you know, the women rather like good old Christian Grey and his S&M ways. And what else do you know but they begin to heed Vivian’s call that what they need in their lives is a bit more sex, or any sex at all for that matter.

There follows what seems like hours of face-clawingly tedious double entendres and lame jokes. To take but one example, Sharon takes her cat to the vet because the animal is listless and depressed. “Sounds like we have a lethargic pussy on our hands,” says the vet. He’s talking about the cat … or is he? Every joke is so obviously set up the initiator might as well be wearing a fright wig and red nose. And so it goes on. Laugh? I thought I never would again.

The men in the movie, including Andy Garcia as a pilot who falls for Diane and Don Johnson as Vivian’s old love, come off much better. They get to choose if and when to make a fool of themselves (and only one of them does). But the women? They can supposedly have their cake and eat it. They can mock 50 Shades but isn’t that EL James in a cameo role? They can decry running after a man as “so yucky, so needy”, but they will do it if necessary. They can talk about having it all, they can indeed have it all, but they still need a man for their lives to be complete. Do give us peace.

On the upside, Book Club does have some lovely houses in it. The cushion work is superb. Oh, and Diane Keaton is still funny, thank the Lord. But she deserved better than this. As did the others. As do the women audiences who the marketing folk think will rush to see this as soon as the World Cup starts (yes, we rumbled you).

Perhaps this is unfair. Just because comedies by and for older women, or indeed any films by and for women, rarely come along we should not expect all things of this one movie. Then again, it is because such pictures are once in blue moon events that filmmakers should make the most of the opportunity and not deliver the kind of second rate fare seen here. Give me England in the World Cup any day.