Routine comedy slips quickly out of mind THREE MEN AND A LITTLE LADY

MEMORIES AREN'T MADE OF THIS

November 21, 1990|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

'Three Men

and a Little Lady'

Starring Tom Selleck, Ted Danson and Steve Guttenberg.

Directed by Emile Ardolino.

Released by Touchstone.

Rated PG.

** In "Three Men and a Little Lady," Tom Selleck plays . . . I forget.

But that's all right, because at least his co-star Ted Danson is . . . er . . . I forgot that one, too.

The third guy is played by Steve . . . Steve . . . Steve Something. I can't remember.

Anyway, the plot is about . . . oh, let's see . . . I think it's about these three guys, see, who are raising a baby . . . no, no, it's a little girl. And then . . . Ah, well, I saw it on Thursday, what do you expect? No, I saw it on Wednesday. Last Wednesday. I can even remember the theater . . . if you gave me a few hours.

The truth is, if "Three Men and a Little Lady" lastsmore than three days in your memory, you are either a complete Tom Selleck freak or you do not have much else clinging to the insides of your skull. Possibly, both.

The movie is competent, occasionally amusing, but so routine and so erratically funny that it feels like a pilot for an unproduced television series, and there's not much mystery why it isn't going to be produced.

The story begins five years after 1987's "Three Men and a Baby," and yes, I know that was only three years ago: Write them, not me. By now the household of swinging bachelors Selleck, Danson and the third one (Steve . . .?) has settled into a weirdly cozy domesticity, in which the three guys act as father figures, the mother (Nancy Travis) acts as the perfect hausfrau, sans mate and sex (we presume), and it's one big happy strange disturbing twisted fouled-up family.

Realizing this, the screenwriter Charlie Peters -- who isn't exactly Mr. Quip -- contrives to bring some semblance of normality into this situation. The result is hardly distinguished; the movie is a case of the bland leading the lame.

Selleck is secretly in love with Travis, but is such a big, handsome tongue-tied galoot he can't spit the words out. Stupid, no? Anyway, realizing that her daughter needs one, not three, male authority figures, she agrees to marry her smarmy British director (she's a fancy actress and the movie wastes entirely too much time trying to nurse yucks out of the fact that she can't cook!). By the time Selleck realizes he loves her, she's off in London, about to be married. Thus he, Danson and . . .

the other guy . . . head out to stop that marriage.

If the movie has any charm to it, it's primarily embodied by the subtextual relationship of the three actors. The three men appear to really like each other; they have the sort of easygoing jocularity, good timing and needling, japing male humor that's quite amusing, though I'd feel better about it if I could remember Steve's last name.

But the plot contrivances feel as ancient as the bones in the La Brea tar pits. Cars run out of gas. Butlers are "daffy." Ugly women come on to Selleck. The British director is "stuffy." And on it goes.

Perhaps even worse, the "little lady," played by Robin Weisman, is one of those horribly precocious show biz pros at 4, with a brassy Mermanesque presence and an eerie sense of the spotlight. There's not one believable moment in her turn; she's like a clone of Shirley Temple, hellbent on stardom and an Oscar before she's 7.

Guttenberg! Steve Guttenberg. Now what was the movie called again?

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