Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
With big-budget competition from flicks like Beverly Hills Cop II and Predator, who’d have thunk that 1987’s top hit would come from a light comedy remake of a French flick? However, that’s exactly what happened. 1987 was a bit of a weak year at the box office, as were 1986 and 1988; those were the only three years of the Eighties during which the top-grossing movie didn’t pass the $200 million mark. (That happened only once in the Nineties, with 1995’s Toy Story.)
During that three-year dry spell, 1987 provided the lowest-grossing winner. Although Three Men and a Baby’s $167 million take didn’t set any records, it still was good enough to top the charts for that year. Actually, 1987 offered a number of surprises high on its list; unheralded releases Fatal Attraction and Good Morning Vietnam were also among its biggest successes.
But the flick about three hunks and an infant directed by a man most famous for his pointy ears won. On one hand, I’d like to cheer for the underdog and applaud crowds for their willingness to go for such a modest film, but this ignores one important factor: Baby bites. Newborns enjoyed a nice run at the box office in this era, what with the success of 1989’s Look Who’s Talking. Geez, that one might be worse than Three Men!
Whatever the case, I’m happy that the infant trend died fairly quickly. Talking spawned two sequels, neither of which did well; 1990’s Look Who’s Talking Too earned roughly a third of the original’s $140 million gross, and by 1993’s Look Who’s Talking Now, the receipts fell all the way down to a pathetic $10 million!
Three Men mustered only one sequel, thankfully: 1990’s Three Men and a Little Lady. Although it made almost $100 million less than the first movie, its $71 million gross actually wasn’t bad. Ironically, though I’m sure the suits regarded the earnings as a disappointment, I’d bet that if the original had taken in $71, they would have seen it as a hit! $71 in 1990 for that kind of flick really was pretty decent.
Had Lady made more money, would we have received more sequels? I have no idea, but I’m sure happy this didn’t occur. Frankly, one movie from this series was too much, as Three Men and a Baby offered a consistently moronic and sappy piece of work.
Three Men is what they call a “high concept” flick. At the start we meet three handsome and popular yuppie bachelors, all of whom live together at a swingin’ Manhattan pad. We find Jack the actor (Ted Danson), Peter the architect (Tom Selleck), and Michael the cartoonist (Steve Guttenberg). All’s well in their world until Jack goes to Turkey to shoot a film. A commercial director friend of his asked if he’d look after a package, so he lets his roomies know to expect something. This arrives while he’s away, and apparently it turns out to be a baby girl!
This sends the men into a tizzy, but they sweat it out; someone’s supposed to pick up the “package” in a couple of days, so they take a crash course in baby care. Eventually when some thugs do arrive, a comedy of errors results; they’re actually after some disguised heroin and they take baby Mary because they think she’s a cover for the transaction.
Peter and Michael quickly figure out what happened when they remember that another package came, and it includes the dope. From there a subplot takes charge through which they have to deal with the criminals while they also try to keep Mary - and themselves - safe. Things expand somewhat when Jack returns, but basically the flick follows those lines.
At least until the end of the second act. The drug subplot finishes at that time, but another complication emerges when Mary’s mother Sylvia (Nancy Travis) comes for the baby. (Jack worked with her in a production of The Taming of the Shrew; their one-night stand resulted in Mary.) The boys have grown to love the little cutie and issues arise about how to deal with this situation.
The “plot” to Three Men is so slight that it barely exists. Essentially the movie exists as an excuse to run a series of scatological jokes and to set up a myriad of cutesy montages. It’s just soooo adorable to watch these hunks struggle with a baby, isn’t it? Uh, no, it’s not. It’s really fairly pathetic, as the movie never attempts to offer anything more than the most obvious gags and situations.
I guess the drug elements came about because the filmmakers realized how insubstantial the story was and they wanted to attempt something more substantial. Unfortunately, that side of the movie misfires badly as well, mainly because the story feels so insanely gratuitous. Plot or no, Three Men would have succeeded better if it stayed solely with the main “fish out of water” theme. Anybody who went to see it did so for the cutesy elements; they didn’t care about the threat offered by the crooks.
Still, I suppose the movie would have been too short without that extension, so pointless as it may be, those scenes do serve a purpose. I think the fact that plot resolves by the end of the second act shows how useless it was; had it been a more important area, it’d last closer to the end.
Three Men stands as one of the most dated films I’ve ever seen. I watched Ruthless People shortly before I screened Three Men. While People certainly features its era-specific elements, it looks fresh as a daisy compared to the relentlessly Eighties Three Men. From the poofy hairstyles to the ugly clothes to the synth-based score and songs, the movie has not aged well.
Actually, the film’s tunes offered a strong indication that it’d be bad. Any flick that features two Miami Sound Machine songs in the first seven minutes must suck. The movie’s soundtrack suffered from an incredible run of crummy songs, actually. From Peter Cetera to John Parr, we hear from lousy Eighties singers; there’s not a decent performer in the bunch.
Three Men and a Baby is comedy for the Anne Geddes crowd. If you can’t get enough of cute babies and adorable situations, you’ll eat this sucker up with a spoon. However, if you’d like to see a movie with a real plot, interesting characters, and clever humor, stay far away from this mega-dud.