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(1999) (Matthew Perry, Neve Campbell) (PG-13)

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Romantic Comedy: A young architect finds himself falling for a tycoon's mistress despite that jeopardizing their business arrangement and the fact that everyone thinks he's gay.
Oscar Novak (MATTHEW PERRY) and his business partner, Peter Steinberg (OLIVER PLATT) are two up and coming Chicago architects who've approached local tycoon Charles Newman (DYLAN McDERMOTT) to financially back their design for revitalizing an old landmark into a multimillion dollar cultural center.

Impressed by their plans, Newman not only agrees to back them, but also asks Oscar if he can keep his eye on his mistress, Amy Post (NEVE CAMPBELL), a local glass blowing artist. Thinking she might be seeing any number of old boyfriends including football star Kevin Cartwright (CYLK COZART), Newman isn't worried about Oscar tagging along with her since everyone, including his assistant, Lenore (DEBORAH RUSH), believes that he's gay.

Sensing that their career enhancing project is on the line, Oscar reluctantly agrees to spy on Amy. Upon first seeing her, however, he's immediately smitten and she hits it off with him as well. That's probably because she thinks he's gay as well, and soon everyone in town believes the same, a fact that's quite funny to Peter since he's the gay one.

As Oscar becomes even more attracted to Amy, he must decide how to proceed with her, particularly as his gay reputation grows, and must deal with any number of complications, such as Amy finally meeting Newman's wife, Olivia (KELLY ROWAN), that threaten to upset the tycoon and thus ruin their deal.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
As is the natural course of all things in life, there are the "haves" and the "have nots." For instance, the dinosaurs had it for a (long) while, but now the mammals dominate. Meanwhile Cro-Magnon man had it, but the Neanderthal obviously didn't.

In more modern comparisons, there are major league baseball players and then those who inhabit the minors, wine that costs a thousand dollars a bottle and the kind with the screw-off cap at the local supermarket, and those who fly first class and the rest of us slobs who get squeezed into coach.

None of that's to say that any of those or better or worse than the other. After all, both types of baseball games can be entertaining, the wine, if so inclined, will have the same ultimate affect on consumers of it, and both types of airline seats will get you to the same place at the same time.

The world of movies isn't that different as there are both mainstream and "B" movies as well as A-list and B-list performers. In romantic comedies in particular, there are the movies starring the likes of Julia Roberts, Tom Hanks, Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan and Hugh Grant, and then those that star everyone else. Again, that doesn't mean that one is necessarily better than the other, but the ones featuring the A-list usually seem to have more of a special luster and spark to them than do their counterparts.

This week's release of "Three To Tango" falls into the latter category and arrives in theaters flying coach. Without the "first class team" in front of or behind the camera, this picture isn't great, but then again it's not horrible. Nevertheless, it's missing that extra oomph and/or pizzazz to stand out from the myriad other romantic comedies that come and go from theaters every year like any number of ordinary, everyday folk passing by at an airport.

Lacking anything resembling an original or unpredictable bone in its body, this film wants to be a combination of a throwback to the screwball comedies of yesteryear and the standard mistaken identity plot (also recently used in "Happy, Texas"). As such, we get a mostly benign comedy filled with some slapstick humor, a few pratfalls and the heroine delivering a punch or two just as once occurred decades ago in similar films.

While the screenplay -- courtesy of Rodney Vaccaro (a playwright turned screenwriter) and Aline Brosh McKenna (her first produced screenplay) -- gets a bit more mileage out of the "he's not gay but everyone thinks he is" plot element than that other film, it certainly doesn't offer anything new that we haven't seen before.

Thus, we see Matthew Perry discovering the mistake and running down the street like a thirty-something version of Macaulay Culkin doing the same, as well as his friends and family reacting to reading such "coming out" news in the paper. While there's obviously some potential there, the film and novice director Damon Santostefano don't use it to their best comedic advantage as did the somewhat similarly plotted "In & Out" (where Kevin Kline had to react to everyone thinking he's gay).

In fact, and suffering from a chronic case of gentle political correctness, the film doesn't even offer that sexual mistaken identity motif as much of a complication since such news initially is received only with surprise, but then nothing else. Nonetheless, everyone in the city seems to know about him -- as if he's the first gay person in Chicago -- and even gets named Gay Man of the Year in an incredibly forced and not particularly funny plot development.

Considering its attempt at being a screwball comedy, the film doesn't even offer standard moments that could have included Perry trying to impress a woman on a heterosexual date while still trying to act gay so as not to blow his cover and/or Newman's financial backing. While that certainly wouldn't have been original, at least it would have been more fun than most of what's presented here, such as Oscar hanging out with Amy's friends and complaining about men's pick up lines.

Of course, that whole angle does create a complication for Perry's character since he's attracted to Neve Campbell's character. Since she thinks he's gay, he just becomes another of her "girlfriends." Being a romantic comedy, however, there's no doubt or worry that they'll get together, fight (complete with a musical montage of them moping for one another as time passes), and then get back together again for the obligatory, happy ending.

The performances are generally solid enough for what's asked of them, but not particularly outstanding and certainly not memorable. Matthew Perry ("Almost Heroes," "Fools Rush In") -- who will most likely continue the "Friends" curse (the fact that nearly every cinematic effort from the cast of that TV show -- save for Courtney Cox appearing in the "Scream" films -- has tanked at the box office) certainly doesn't stretch his thespian wings much with this role.

While he's decent playing the everyday guy caught up in weird circumstances, the character he plays here isn't a great deal different from that of Chandler on "Friends," meaning he's an amiable guy who doesn't have much of a backbone until late in the proceedings.

Neve Campbell (TV's "Party of Five," the "Scream" films) gets her first comedic shot at leading romantic lady status, and while she delivers a decent performance, this obviously isn't the best sort of role for her. Although amiable enough, she just doesn't emit the necessary comedy sparkle to command the screen.

Meanwhile, Dylan McDermott (TV's "The Practice," "'Til There Was You") can't do much of anything with his one-dimensional "germophobic" tycoon character (his Howard Hughes qualities are introduced, but never capitalized upon), and Oliver Platt ("Lake Placid," "Bulworth") is similarly left without much to do (although he gets to have his hair dressed something akin to Cameron Diaz in "There's Something About Mary" although not with the same product).

Overall, the film's simply there like any number of familiar yet uninteresting faces one might see looking back from their seat in coach and viewing the rest of the "have nots." Not horrible, but simply not that particularly interesting, original or worse yet, funny, the film may partially entertain those who'd be labeled as "less discerning," but that's about it. Thus, "Three To Tango" rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed October 9, 1999 / Posted October 22, 1999

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