THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Isn't it about time to put the kibosh on comedies about sexual ambiguity? The idea of people playing guessing games about another's sexual preference is tiresome. Case in point: Three to Tango, a dippy romantic comedy that offers nothing original.

Dylan McDermott plays Charles Newman, a wealthy (and married) business tycoon. He has a mistress named Amy (Neve Campbell). She's an artist who specializes in blown glass (the Freudian implications are staggering). Jealous to a fault, Charles convinces an architect named Oscar (Matthew Perry) to follow her around. Oscar agrees because he and his partner (Oliver Platt) want to win a big contract for his firm, and Charles just happens to be spearheading the construction of a major new cultural center. There are two entanglements, though. First, Oscar is given the assignment because Charles thinks he's gay. Second, he falls in love with Amy (she thinks he's gay, too).

I like all the stars of Three to Tango - they have talent and charisma. Perry is consistently the funniest thing about the TV show "Friends" and he's proven to be effective at romantic comedy (I liked his other movie Fools Rush In). Campbell is also fabulous, a versatile and eminently engaging actress capable of stretching from the horror of Scream to the drama of Wild Things. And McDermott, long before gaining fame as the star of "The Practice" was a familiar character actor on the big screen.

All three of these performers try to make a sweet, funny movie. Unfortunately, the direction is so bad that many of the gags fall short. Timing is important to comedy and director Damon Santostefano could stand to develop a sense of it. Many times, the director goes for a laugh but then cuts away too quicky from the punchline. Other times, he just doesn't build to the punchline effectively enough. Then again, some scenes are just downright dumb and not even Martin Scorsese could have made them work. For instance, there's an embarrassing scene where Oscar and Amy bond by vomiting together (although this does allow for a perversely funny moment late in the film where Oscar sees a man puking and fondly thinks of Amy). Or perhaps the one in which Oscar's father (who also comes to believe his son is gay) puts a bucket over his head and rams it into the side of the garage. The word "desperate" comes to mind on occasions like this.

There are occasionally sharp lines in the screenplay, but for every good line, there are five cliches. The premise that everyone thinks Oscar is gay gets old real fast, so what we're left with is a trio of wonderful actors in a half-baked retread of the much-better In & Out. There was a time when homosexuality wasn't even addressed in films. Only when Philadelphia opened up the doors did Hollywood start dealing with gay issues in mainstream pictures. But as with many things, Hollywood doesn't exactly understand the subject, and so we are often left with two big cliches - the gay best friend and the sexual-preference guessing game. Both have worn out their welcome. Three To Tango only proves it once again.

( out of four)

Three To Tango is rated PG-13 for language and sexual situations. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.

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