I didn’t think Matthew Perry could find a romantic comedy more inert or inane than the 1997 fiasco ”Fools Rush In.” Then I saw Three to Tango. The ”Friends” costar has once again taken a role disturbingly similar to his prime-time alter ego: Like Chandler Bing, Chicago architect Oscar Novak is a neurotically fastidious wisenheimer who tends to babble around beautiful women and is widely assumed to be gay.
Just such a misunderstanding propels ”Tango”’s tired plot. Thought to pose no heterosexual threat, Oscar is asked by philandering, germ-phobic – dare I say Trumpesque? – tycoon Charles Newman (”The Practice”’s Dylan McDermott) to spy on his glassblowing mistress, Amy Post (Neve Campbell). Who could’ve predicted Oscar would fall for her? Okay, aside from anyone who’s ever seen a painfully schematic farce.
”Friends” allows Perry to display his precise comic timing on a weekly basis, but even he can’t save stale lines like ”I have no problem with homosexuality, especially when it happens between two gorgeous women. Or three.” As his professional partner, who – ready? – ”really is gay,” the equally talented Oliver Platt sinks to mincing, limp-wristed shtick.
McDermott and Campbell fare even worse. McDermott’s natural earnestness serves him well as attorney Bobby Donnell on ”The Practice,” but he shows zero flair for comedy. And just as in the ”Scream” films, Campbell seems incapable of shedding her ”Party of Five” mannerisms – the sidelong laugh, the singsong cadence. It’s as if San Francisco orphan Julia Salinger moved to Illinois and became an avant-garde adulteress.
Shot in depressingly washed-out tones by director Damon Santostefano (whose only previous credit is the 1992 Garrett Morris gore movie ”Severed Ties”), ”Tango” wants to have it both ways. First-time screenwriters Rodney Patrick Vaccaro and Aline Brosh McKenna’s script periodically creaks to a halt to preach a condescending message of tolerance of gay people. Yet it just as often makes cheap jokes at their expense. In one gag given prominent play in the film’s TV ads, Oscar’s dad puts a bucket over his head and bangs it against a wall after reading an erroneous newspaper report trumpeting his offspring’s homosexuality. It’s a mean-spirited little scene, but after suffering through ”Three to Tango,” I know exactly how that father feels.