Sunday, July 11, 2004

Three To Tango

* * (out of four)
Seen 11 July 2004 in Jay's Living Room (background while putting a bookshelf together)

Truth be told, when I picked Three To Tango from among my unwatched DVDs tonight, it was because I was looking for something that would not necessarily command my full attention; after all, a really engrossing movie would prevent me from putting that bookcase my mom gave me for my birthday in October together while I watched it. Heck, this movie probably wouldn't be on my shelf at all if it weren't on the $5.99 shelf at Best Buy on a day when the thought of how cute Neve Campbell is went randomly through my mind.

It did its job; it's an almost completely disposable comedy, below average but not really actively bad. It stars a number of people who have done much better work and coasts on their charm. Of course, some have more charm than others (Oliver Platt > Dylan McDermott), and Matthew Perry was (and, really, still is) trying to figure out how to make his TV persona work on the big screen.

The storyline is at that tricky intersection of screwball and earnest. The screwball part involves Oscar (Perry) being pressured into keeping an eye on the girlfriend (Campbell) his potential employer (McDermott). The tycoon trusts Perry with this task because he has been led to believe Oscar is gay (and truth be told, it's not a completely reasonable assumption based on their first meeting). The girl, Amy, is, of course, pretty, perceptive enough to realize Oscar was sent to spy on her, and willful enough to call him on it. However, he for some unknown reason doesn't tell her the truth at the first opportunity, and as a result spends the next hour or so jumping through hoops to maintain the cover, even as it gets him outed to the entire city.

Which is where the earnestness comes in - the isn't quite content to simply use the presumption that Oscar is gay as an engine to drive the plot, but feels the need to have a message, which it of course allows Oscar to deliver in a speech to an assembled crowd. Unfortunately, the very act of going out of the way to say someone being gay should be no big deal underscores it as a big deal, and as a result takes up valuable time that could be spent on making the audience laugh.

The performances are a mixed bag - Oliver Platt is pleasant as Oscar's business partner, but isn't given enough to do; one wonders why Oscar is given three other guys who hang out in his apartment when their lines could be given to Mr. Platt. McDermott is little more than a combination of hypochondriac tics as Charles Newman. Neve Campbell does a pretty good job as the screwball female lead, eccentric and presumptive enough to be annoying if she weren't so pretty and smart. She's not Katherine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby, but she's got that type of charm. Perry does his harried neurotic thing, and he's good at it, but he'd probably be even better if he started taking scripts that let him do less slapstick and more Bob Newhart. Or if he'd been given more screwball dialogue to work with.

One notable element of the film is the soundtrack. It uses a fair amount of the sort of swing-rock that was already fading away by this film's 1999 release, and it's perhaps the most energetic part of the film (note to self: see if the CD is still readily available in local record stores). I'm guessing that the producers did this to try and fit in with the 90s-hip/30s-cool vibe they were trying to do - the modern screwball thing - and the ironic end result is that the film doesn't live up to its soundtrack.

But, hey, it did the job. Time passed while I got my bookcase finished (though my retired builder grandfather would probably shake his head at the actual results), I laughed a few times, and I got to enjoy the whole Neve Campbell being pretty thing. Three To Tango is not a movie that merits ones complete attention, but isn't completely worthless, either.

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