The first 30 minutes of ''Three Men and a Little Lady'' are almost unbearably cute. As they roll by, a thought nags -- what are these three grown men doing, continuing with this sort of communal arrangement at their ages?
That question is answered at that half-hour mark, and while this might not pass outside the theater, it's good enough for a farce of this sort.
''Three Men and a Little Lady'' improves after those first 30 minutes but not that much. The film, tolerable at best, is never the joy the first movie was. In the original, Tom Selleck came off best. In the sequel, Ted Danson does best. His work, however, is not something that is likely to send his career zooming.
Selleck, Danson and Steve Guttenberg do a rap number for the little girl who shares their apartment, and this too, must be endured. Someone apparently thought it might be cute to have these three guys do some rap. It isn't.
Nancy Travis is the mother of the girl, the woman who left the child at the door of these three men in the first film. She is charming, but this is an almost impossible assignment.
It isn't her fault. It isn't the actors' fault. It is probably the script and the direction. You've got to achieve the precise tone of silliness in a movie this contrived, and Charlie Peters, who did the script, doesn't quite make it. Nor does director Emile Ardolino (''Dirty Dancing,''), though, heaven knows he tries.
The new movie revisits this strange household a few years after the first movie ended. The baby is now 5 years old, her ''fathers'' are still batching it, and her mother is still being very patient with Selleck, with whom she has fallen in love. He's in love with her, too, but it takes a while for him to figure that out. It would.
Tired of waiting, Sylvia (Travis) accepts a marriage proposal from an English stage director (Christopher Cazenove), who wants to take her and her child back to England. What she doesn't know is that he plans to put the kid in a boarding school, and when the three men discover this, there is a mad scramble to halt the marriage. Naturally, the wedding is in full regal swing when the three guys enter the church.
''Three Men and a Little Lady'' spends a little time on genital humor, and in order to get that PG rating, includes a few words 5-year-old children aren't likely to use.
That's all right. It hardly offends. What offends is the almost terminal cuteness that opens the movie. This observation, however, may be purely personal. The advance-screening audience seemed to enjoy the film, particularly toward the close when an English headmistress comes on to Selleck.
''Three Men and a Little Lady''
** One of the three men acting as father to a 5-year-old falls in love with the child's mother but is slow in realizing this.
CAST: Ted Danson, Tom Selleck, Steve Guttenberg, Nancy Travis, Christopher Cazenove, Fiona Shaw.
DIRECTOR: Emile Ardolino
RATING: PG (language)
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes