Three to Tango

on October 22, 1999 by Wade Major
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   A calculated and surprisingly original romantic comedy featuring three of television's most popular performers, "Three to Tango" is an endearing, engaging farce that bodes well for these and other small-screen stars looking to translate the power of their personae to the bigscreen.
   Much like the Kevin Kline comedy "In and Out," "Three to Tango" centers on the comedic travails of a heterosexual man whose life is turned upside-down after an innocent misunderstanding gives way to the rumor that he is gay. Unlike "In and Out," however, the woebegone hero of "Three to Tango"--skittish architect Oscar Novak (Matthew Perry)--has no doubts as to his sexuality. He is irreversibly and unapologetically straight. Unfortunately, correcting the misunderstanding risks jeopardizing a multi-million dollar contract that he and his genuinely gay business partner Peter Steinberg (Oliver Platt) have fought hard to secure. As it turns out, their would-be patron--egotistical tycoon Charles Newman (Dylan McDermott)--is far more interested in Oscar as a "safe" chaperon for his artist mistress Amy Post (Neve Campbell) than as an architect, a humiliating exercise to which Oscar nonetheless agrees out of loyalty to Peter. Naturally, Oscar winds up falling hopelessly in love with Amy and finds himself forced to confront the age-old dilemma of choosing between love and money.
   While "Three to Tango" is hardly spectacular, it is nevertheless pleasantly diverting and consistently entertaining, quickly finding its footing after some initial expository clumsiness. And though many of its components borrow liberally from other films (most notably "Tootsie"), it strays from formula often enough to engender a unique charm of its own.
   Debut director Damon Santostefano, a veteran of stage and cable television, delivers a restrained and workmanlike product, wisely allowing his performers to take center stage and do precisely what audiences expect them to do. Perry, of course, is the real draw here, doing little more than a variation on his "Friends" persona, Chandler, whose own ambiguous sexuality has been the subject of similar jibes on the show. Here, at least, Perry has the chance to prove the cinematic viability of the persona, a task which he manages more successfully than in the little seen "Fools Rush In."
   Not that audiences should expect to see Perry, McDermott or Campbell abandon their day jobs any time soon--even by the most optimistic projections, "Three to Tango" looks to be only a moderate success. It is, however, a very solid step in the right direction. Starring Matthew Perry, Neve Campbell, Dylan McDermott and Oliver Platt. Directed by Damon Santostefano. Written by Rodney Vaccaro and Aline Brosh McKenna. Produced by Bobby Newmyer, Jeffrey Silver and Bettina Sofia Viviano. A Warner Bros. release. Romantic Comedy. Rated PG-13 for sex-related situations and language. Running time: 98 min
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