Three to Tango (1999)
Directed by Damon Santostefano

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* ½

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Oscar (Matthew Perry) and Peter (Oliver Platt) are partners in an architectural firm in Chicago who are trying to win a contract with Charles Newman (Dylan McDermott), a wealthy businessman. When this arrogant, suspicious millionaire is unable to attend the opening of an exhibition of his mistress' artwork, he asks Oscar, who he mistakenly thinks is gay, to keep an eye on her. Fearing he will not be given the contract if he does not do so, Oscar goes to the exhibit, where he meets Charles' mistress, Amy (Neve Campbell). The two quickly develop a friendship and, despite Amy's thinking Oscar is gay and his not wanting to jeopardize his career, begin to fall in love with one another.

Hackneyed, uninspired, and punctuated with a number of utterly atrocious elements, Damon Santostefano's Three to Tango is truly painful to watch.

The plot the screenwriter has cobbled together from previous romantic comedies is so predictable that it is never able to engage the viewer. The characters are so completely uninspired they are more like stereotypes than individuals, and the jokes they tell are so lacking in imagination that it is unlikely even one of them will be able to make the moviegoer laugh.

Sadly, although Santostefano incessantly strives to involve the viewer with his characters and to infuse their lives with humor, he rarely if ever succeeds in doing so. The countless awkward situations in which he places Oscar by depicting the film's other characters as thinking the protagonist is gay are consistently strained. Oscar's being nominated as Chicago's gay professional of the year is especially clumsily done and provides some of the movie's worst moments. The same character's quirky first date with Amy, in which the two travel in a taxi that suddenly bursts into flame, eat vile tuna melts that cause both of them to vomit, and generally grow to like one another, is, however, only slightly less contrived. Unfortunately, the director's ineptitude is not given expression only in these scenarios. Oscar's uncomfortable conversations with Amy, in which he yearns to express his love, but cannot because of the power her noxious boyfriend has over him, are more forgettable than emotive, and those in which the hero gets his love interest to confess various secrets, such as a prior lesbian experience, are remarkably forced. There is hardly a moment in the movie that is not dull or abysmal.

In fact, the film is so vapid that it is not simply mediocre but is actually often embarrassing. The wildly labored misunderstandings, forced plot twists, and completely incomprehensible motivations with which it is filled are likely, on more than one occasion, to make the viewer wonder how any movie could be so arbitrary and so formulaic. The viewer is, as a result, as likely to be irritated with the film as he is to be bored by it.

The characters around whom this tedious story is woven are just as unlikely to appeal to the moviegoer. There is not one of them who is either interesting or sympathetic. Oscar is a sports obsessed, strangely homophobic yuppie. Peter is a virtual non-entity put together from bits of various gay stereotypes. Charles is a cruel, manipulative, and self-centered creature, and Amy is a deep, sensitive artist who dates football players and cruel, manipulative, self-centered creatures who intimidate their potential employees into spying on her. She does, however, have a developed sense of ethics. While she may not be bothered by having sex with a married man, or by his paranoid fear that she will cheat on him, she is annoyed by Oscar when he admits that he has let Charles coerce him into pretending that he is gay.

As dull or dreadful as much of the film is, there is little in it that will prepare the viewer for its truly atrocious conclusion. I cannot begin to express how forced, clumsy, trite, improbable, and just stupid the movie's ending is. It is, however, possible that the sheer ineptitude that went into putting together this series of events might amuse the viewer, assuming, of course, that he can keep himself from retching while he his watching them unfold.

If such admirable qualities are insufficient to trouble the viewer, the film makers have made one last effort to do so by imbuing their work with a nasty religious bigotry. In one scene, they actually have their characters banter offensively about the Buddha. Their comments are likely to shock not only many Buddhists but any other person who does not find the religion to be a silly foreign superstition. Unfortunately, the screenwriter and director obviously do believe that the Buddha is a chubby, funny little barbarian any sensible person should laugh at. After all, would they have made similar jokes about Jesus, Moses, or Muhammad? While there is nothing that is not fit to be mocked, whenever mockery is based on ignorance and narrow-mindedness, it is indicative of a foul, provincial bigotry not any insight or intelligence.

While some of the its faults are severe enough to give the movie an awkward charm, most are just grating. Three to Tango is, consequently, a dreadful film that is best avoided.

Review by Keith Allen

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