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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Review
Three to Tango (1999)
1 Stars

Directed by Damon Santostefano
Cast: Matthew Perry, Neve Campbell, Oliver Platt, Dylan McDermott, Cylk Cozart, Kelly Rowan.
1999 – 92 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (from profanity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, October 23, 1999.

"Three to Tango" stars Matthew Perry (TV's "Friends"), Neve Campbell (TV's "Party of Five"), and Dylan McDermott (TV's "The Practice"). I do not mention the fact that they are all currently starring on television series' to demean or criticize their acting abilities, but I mention it because their casting seems rather appropriate. There's no way "big" movie stars would have agreed to make "Three to Tango" because it is inauspiciously written by Rodney Vaccaro and Aline Brosh McKenna on a strictly television sitcom level, and rarely ever feels like a feature film.

Tellingly, the movie is stretched so thinly and told in such a paint-by-numbers way that there is very little interest that evolves within the story, and the only relationship that is able to develop satisfactorily is that between Oscar Novack (Matthew Perry), a Chicago architect, and Amy Post (Neve Campbell), a prospering artist. They come together and become close friends after Oscar, believed to be gay after a misunderstanding involving his gay partner, Peter Steinberg (Oliver Platt), is hired by multimillionaire business magnate Charles Newman (Dylan McDermott) to keep an eye on his beautiful mistress, who happens to be Amy. Hitting it off at one of her gallery openings, followed by an adventurous evening in which their cab literally blows up and they get sick and throw up from eating tuna melts at a low-rent dive, Oscar instantly has fallen in love, and Amy likewise has feelings for him. Unfortunately, once the false news spreads around the area that Oscar is gay after his picture is plastered on the front page of the newspaper, he finds himself having to play up the rumor so he doesn't jeopardize his job or Amy's friendship.

Amidst a handful of charming little scenes and an absolutely winning performance from Neve Campbell that proves she's more than just a television actress, "Three to Tango" is a terminally empty-headed romantic comedy, and most of the blame should not be put on the actors (aside from Dylan McDermott, who is thoroughly unappealing), but on the dumb screenplay and flat direction, by Damon Santostefano (whose only previous film credit is 1992's "Severed Ties"). Clocking in at just over 90 minutes, the film's aspirations are disjointed and very little of the mistaken identity plotline is successful. Moreover, its treatment of gays is, at times, surprisingly thoughtful, as with the subplot involving Amy's ex-boyfriend (Cylk Cozart) who has just recently come out, and other times it is simply offensive. The reaction of Oscar's father when he finds out he's "gay" is certainly the film's major low point.

Matthew Perry is perfectly fine in his good-guy role as Oscar, but he is pretty much playing his character of Chandler on "Friends." However, Neve Campbell abandons her sullen, problems-ridden Julia Salinger character from "Party of Five," and makes Amy a fun-loving, intelligent gal--the exact type you'd like to root for in a film of this genre. Campbell lights up the screen, and almost single-handedly steals the picture from everything and everyone else involved.

By the time the heartfelt climax and hugely predictable conclusion occur, you're left with a malnourished appetite, as you've been waiting--praying--for something of note to happen when nothing ever does. Oscar, being presented the award as Gay Man of the Year (is there seriously such a thing?), "comes out" to everyone, in reverse, letting the guests know that he isn't actually gay. Standing up for what he believes in and professing his deep love and admiration for Amy, his speech (the type that only occur in movies) sends off a warm applause from the audience before him. Why is this annoying cliche used in so many films, since it so obviously doesn't resemble reality or human nature at all? Accordingly, there are no twists, no unforeseen developments, and the ending does not make the most of its romantic intentions, even if we like Amy and Oscar, which I did.

For no known reason, more of the running time is padded out by the opening and ending credits, which feature people dancing to swing music. How exactly does swing music factor in to anything else in the film, anyway? I'd almost bet money that no one involved could give me a plausible answer. When all is said and done, "Three to Tango" is like a loaf of stale bread. From afar, it may look fresh and mildly engaging, but get closer, and its appeal sours.

©1999 by Dustin Putman

Dustin Putman