For a romantic comedy with a pilfered plot, one-note personalities and a story outline so obvious a monkey could predict every scene, "Three To Tango" is surprisingly agreeable -- up to a point.
The movie stars "Friends" zinger king Matthew Perry as an architect and consummate kiss-ass who, for the sake of scoring a major project, agrees to babysit the beautiful mistress (Neve Campbell) of a married tycoon (Dylan McDermott), who is afraid of losing his pretty fling's affections to another man.
Except for milk-it-for-cheap-laughs gimmick that McDermott thinks Perry is gay, the plot is almost an act-for-act match of "For Love or Money," a terminally cute 1993 prime-time escape vehicle for Michael J. Fox, who played a Manhattan concierge with dreams of building his own hotel.
Obviously, Perry is destined to fall in love with his adorable charge. Obviously, he's going to have to play gay to extremes that he never imagined when the mistake was first made (he didn't correct it because it meant spending time with the girl). Obviously the truth is going to come out and put career and romance at risk. Obviously there's a happy ending.
But throughout most of the film, freshman director Damon Santostefano artfully dodges the trappings of the obvious by coming out of left field with much of the humor -- a lively modification of 1930s-style screwball and slapstick.
Then Santostefano loses his balance in the last 15 minutes and spills all the enjoyable twists down the drain. In the wake of a near-kiss -- one which the audience really wants to happen -- the movie suddenly turns to into a humorless, insultingly uncreative, soundtrack-induced sympathy act as the destiny couple pine away separately for several scenes before the other shoe drops. There's a quarrel ("You promised to always tell me the truth!"), reconciliation and comeuppance for the tycoon, all right on schedule.
If they had just kissed, the picture could have taken off in a thousand fresh and funny directions and might have maintained its obliging spark. Perry could confess and the two could find wacky ways to conspire to keep their affair secret until the project came through.
But "Three To Tango" self-distrusts when its thin sniff of novelty is blown away and the movie is exposed for the nonsensical, auto-pilot allegory that it is. All the plot holes and unmotivated actions (Campbell moves in with Perry when the screenwriters can't think of another way to advance the tension) are suddenly less forgivable, and even the appeal of the characters is instantly called into question.
Without variation, Perry (looking silly with his hair dyed strawberry blond) exudes his regulation foot-in-mouth charm and is frequently reduced to shopworn double-takes. A decent comedienne, Campbell's mistress character is little more than an uninscribed trophy with an outgoing personality and a quirky occupation (glass blowing) to make her seem unique. Just what she's doing with McDermott in the first place, since she's ostensibly uninterested in his money or his looks, is never explored in the least. McDermott is well-cast as the millionaire, but aside from a few rich guy eccentricities (yoga and echinacea obsessions), there's nothing to him.
The most interesting character in the movie is Perry's under-utilized business partner -- who really is gay -- played by Oliver Platt, a sublime supporting actor who has made a career out of playing capricious scene-stealers ("Lake Placid," "Bulworth," "The Impostors," "Dangerous Beauty," "A Time to Kill").
The most disappointing thing about "Three To Tango" is that after making me like it in spite of its shortcomings for about an hour, it turned around and lived down to my original, unenthusiastic expectations.
Run time: 98 mins
In Theaters: Friday 22nd October 1999
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production compaines: Village Roadshow Pictures, Warner Bros.
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 28%
Fresh: 18 Rotten: 47
IMDB: 6.0 / 10
Director: Damon Santostefano
Also starring: Cylk Cozart