'Threesome' tries to be sexually liberated but becomes only smarmy

April 08, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

"Threesome" is a sort of a low-cal "Jules et Jim," except it's more like a no-cal "Jules et Jim." It's so lite it doesn't exist!

Instead of the triangular structure of two guys loving the same girl, however, as in the great Truffaut classic, its molecules are arranged along a linear axis, like a designer drug for the liberated '90s. It's about a guy who loves a girl who loves another guy who loves the first guy. Well, maybe it's not love as "Casablanca" -- or even "Jules et Jim" -- might have defined it: Each wants to get his or her object of desire in the sack.

Yet for all its vaunted and loudly proclaimed sexual liberalism, it's really just a smarmy heterosexual take on matters erotic and it has no problem trying to goose a few laughs out of the oldest of stereotypes. Two of the minor characters, used for much comic sport by the screenplay, repeat two evil old favorites: the gay male as preening, foppish, effeminate swish and his close female friend, the bitchy "fag hag" who can't have close relationships with heterosexual men and thus cleaves to gays.

Set at an unnamed California university, it follows the twisted sexual and emotional gyre of three roommates thrust together by the unfeeling, cold, heartless maw of a bureaucratic machine that . . . doesn't even run personality tests for compatibility among its students! I think that's a scandal! But that's how the macho-jock-swordsman-business major Stuart (Stephen , Baldwin) and artsy theatrical type Alex (Lara Flynn Boyle), whom the computers think is a guy, and sensitive English major Eddy (Baltimore's Josh Charles) end up in a suite of rooms, each lusting after the loins of the one to the right of them.

Well, I don't buy it. Human nature being what it is -- ugly, intolerant and abrasive -- types tend to congregate with types, lions rarely lie down with lambs and even in these high-water days of diversity, it's unlikely that drama students, business students and English students so quickly and totally develop a bond and have so much giddy fun together. What would they talk about?

Andrew Fleming wrote and directed; he gets one thing right, even if it's not the fundamental thing: It's the way friendships can become cults, drawing the participants out of society at large and into narcissistic, achingly superior little mutual-admiration societies, which is what happens to Stuart, Alex and Eddy. And we're supposed to like them?

That's particularly difficult when Stuart and Alex decide to set up Eddy -- he's the sexually confused one -- with the flamboyantly gay dorm counselor Larry (Mark Arnold), whom the movie has been having such fun with. Alas, poor Eddy is too sensitive to Larry's bad breath and ugly clothes to consummate the union and Larry is driven from the hallowed sanctum of the suite in humiliation and pain, to the high amusement of the glorious gang of three.

In its other aspects, "Threesome" is fairly conventional paean to the larky glories of being young, the three P's: Pizza, Promiscuity and Preening. And yes, how nice to take off on a warm spring day, drive into the country and find a pond in which to go skinny-dipping instead of taking care of business! But, see, I'm a film critic, I get to do that anyway. The performances are all convincing, given the weightlessness of the material, although it does seem that Boyle is about a decade older than the two young men. But "Threesome" means to be winsome while it's only irksome.


Starring Stephen Baldwin, Lara Flynn Boyle and Josh Charles

Directed by Andrew Fleming

Released by Tri-Star



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