Three to Tango

Directed by Damon Santostefano
Starring: Matthew Perry, Neve Campbell, Dylan McDermott, Oliver Platt.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sex-related situations and language.

Review by Matt Heffernan
October 22, 1999

I had the great misfortune of watching this film just a few hours after going to Happy, Texas. I knew that they would both involve straight men posing as gay. I just didn't know that the first film would be so much better.

Oscar Novak (Matthew Perry) and Peter Steinberg (Oliver Platt) run an architecture firm in Chicago. They are competing for a contract with the rival firm of Decker and Strauss (John C. McGinley and Bob Balaban). The contract is for wealthy industrialist Charles Newman (Dylan McDermott), who commisions each of them to build models of their designs, and he'll choose one. To help clinch their almost certain victory, Decker and Strauss confirm a suspicion of Newman's secretary that Novak and Steinberg are gay. In a round of farcical misunderstandings, Oscar makes Newman believe that he is gay, but Peter isn't (while the opposite is actually true).

Newman takes advantage of the power he has over Oscar by having him spy on his mistress, Amy (Neve Campbell). After Oscar and Amy meet (in typical comedy fashion), and spend an event-filled evening together, Oscar returns to Newman and says that she isn't cheating on him. Oscar then learns that both Newman and Amy think he is gay, and that he must continue hanging around Amy, all the while pretending to be gay, in order to give him a chance at the contract.

The whole introduction of this premise happens in an excruciatingly contrived manner. I was expecting the worst for the rest of the film, but once it started rolling, the comedy started to pick up. There are many genuinely funny moments, and a few big laughs. But when it comes time to wrap it up, and for Oscar to "come out", the whole thing falls back into its conventional roots. So, I leave the theater cheated of what could have been a great romantic comedy. The experience was all too similar to my viewing of The Sixth Sense, where a pretty good middle was bookended by cut-rate material.

The cast is appealing, and the familiar TV faces of Perry, Campbell, and McDermott are well balanced with the energy of Platt, who always shines on film (unless you count Lake Placid). Although it's not saying much, Perry does give his best film performance to date. Oscar isn't just a big screen version of Chandler from "Friends", but a fully realized character. But characters are pushed aside for a good part of the film, in favor of tired slapstick humor.

Well, that's what I get for going to yet another typical Hollywood movie. Just to add insult to injury, more people will probably go to see this film than Happy, Texas. I hope that everybody (and that means you) will prove me wrong, and keep fresh and original work on the screen.

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Three to Tango (1999)

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Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan