Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:38 - Released 10/22/99

The question of whether Matthew Perry's character is gay has been a running gag on his TV show Friends practically since its inception. This idea apparently comes from the fact that Perry's character does not spit, burp, or fart audibly, possesses a modicum of taste, and occasionally has trouble picking up women. He plays the exact same character in Three To Tango, and this film features the same type of trite, stereotypical characterization of gays as is usually seen on television sitcoms. The part that is really hard to figure out is that his romantic opposite is Neve Campbell, who looks and acts so much like a teenage boy that one might think he's gay just for being attracted to her.

Three To Tango is written by Rodney Patrick Vaccaro and Aline Brosh McKenna, and directed by Damon Santostefano, all relative newcomers. It tells the story of a young architect named Oscar Novak (Perry), who, along with his business partner, Peter Steinberg (Oliver Platt), secures a lucrative job restoring a famous structure in Chicago for wealthy businessman Charles Newman (Dylan McDermott). Through one of those ridiculous movie misunderstandings, Charles gets the idea that Oscar is gay, and asks him to spy on his extramarital lover, artist Amy Post (the boyish Campbell). Charles, a jealous lover, is perpetually afraid that one of Amy's many ex-boyfriends might steal her away, but he reasons that since Oscar is gay, he needn't fear any hanky-panky between the two. And because Oscar and Peter really need this job, Oscar decides to go along.

When Oscar and Amy first meet, they sense a strong mutual attraction, and spend a terrible but romantic evening together. She's disappointed when Charles tells her he's gay, but soon she becomes his best friend, confiding in him in a way only girlfriends do. She even introduces him to her female friends, who proceed to tell him all their sexy secrets, comfortably assured that he's a homosexual. So Oscar, plagued with sexual frustration, is forced to maintain this charade for the sake of Peter (who actually is gay) and so he can continue to see Amy without fear of reprisal from Charles.

I have to admit that there is good connection here between Perry and Campbell. Especially early in their relationship, there is an easy quality about both of them, and they play off each other beautifully. But as things deepen and their connection becomes more close to something romantic, it becomes unbearably pretentious. McDermott, who was fun as Fish in Jodie Foster's Home For The Holidays, struggles to be villanous as Charles. As cute and impulsive as Amy is described, Campbell doesn't really make us fall for her the way we need to in order to believe she'd be at the center of this romantic tug of war. And as I mentioned, Perry is indistinguishable from his Chandler character in Friends, which he seems to have down.

A mediocre comedy at best, Three To Tango has hits and misses (one hit is the liberal use of big band/swing music throughout the soundtrack), but I feel gays would be offended by its clichéd depiction of their lifestyle and tastes. Vaccaro's screenwriting is steeped in TV sitcom sensibilities, and director Santostefano doesn't look or ask for anything new from his actors. If I had wanted a 90-minute episode of Friends, I would've asked for one. ***

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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