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Friday, October 22, 1999

A few steps shy of tasteless

Movie: Three to Tango

Posted on Fri, Oct 22, 1999 at 4:00 AM

**1/2
Our Rating: 2.50

Hard-core television fans will get a kick out of "Three To Tango," and the rest of us might find some amusing entertainment, too. Just a little too naughty for the small screen, it's still pushed way toward this side of tastelessness -- a good place for a featherweight throwaway comedy to be.

The three stars are familiar figures on the network promo circuit -- Matthew Perry of "Friends," Neve Campbell of "Party of Five" and Dylan McDermott of "The Practice." The script, by playwright Rodney Vaccaro and TV writer Aline Brosh McKenna, alters the actor's small-screen characters just enough to give them a little verve.

Perry plays the central character, an architect desperate to salvage a huge Chicago remodeling job. McDermott plays the boss, a tycoon with a dysfunctional marriage and enough arrogance to flood his wing-tips. Campbell plays the tycoon's mistress, a glass-blowing artist with a flighty attitude and a penchant for men she can't have.

The tycoon wants someone to keep an eye on his mistress. So when he learns his "goofball" architect is gay, he assigns the task to him.

Since Perry's not really gay, he of course falls quickly in love with Campbell. But the media decide to honor the rising-star gay architect and more complications ensue.

All this mistaken identity stuff makes for fast-moving comedy, with Perry getting the best lines along with various pratfalls. It's the sort of frantic "Quick, before he gets here!" situation comedy that has sustained the 30-minute framework for decades; the phrase "Three's Company" comes to mind more than once.

But credit the experience of these performers. They're rock-solid after years of working on just these sorts of scenes, and they don't betray a false note. Even when we arrive at the social conscience of the story -- coming out of the closet equals honesty, which even blue-noses can respect -- the performances buoy up and sail straight. While nobody will mistake this story for any sort of gay manifesto, that sort of posturing has little place in farce, anyway.

So the lack of film stars doesn't signify that "Three To Tango" lacks virtues; it's just that it doesn't stretch toward anything excellent. The story's predictable, the chemistry's OK, the performances engage us.

That's just what we get from TV, but we should expect more when millions more in time and effort are expended. Nobody tosses more of all that our way in "Three To Tango," and what we get is a few extra dirty words and a little more risqué take on homosexuality than prime time will allow.

A note on Perry: This is his second attempt to play funny opposite a heartthrob actress (see "Fools Rush In" with Selma Hayek), and he's improving slowly. Up next for him is Natasha Henstridge in "The Whole Nine Yards." Work harder, Matt.

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