Three Men and a Baby (1987)

1 Mar

selleck-danson-guttenberg-three-men-baby

Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Three Men and a Baby” is the American remake of a French comedy, which I never saw. But it doesn’t matter much anyway, since remakes are supposed to stand alone as movies instead of always being compared to the original all the time (even though we can’t help ourselves). So I don’t know what was upgraded and what was downgraded for this American remake of “3 Men and a Cradle” (the French film). But as a movie, “Three Men and a Baby” is a nice, gentle comedy with good laughs and a real sweetness to it.

The movie features Tom Selleck, Steve Guttenberg, and Ted Danson as three bachelors who share a luxury apartment as their own bachelor pad in New York. (By the way, I love the look of the place; paintings of the city and portraits of the three guys outline the walls…though I don’t think it’d be suitable for a bachelor pad.) The first fifteen minutes of the film is just them delivering wisecracking dialogue and gawking over women. They have a seemingly endless series of girlfriends, some of which we see at a birthday party of one of the guys.

Then, the next day, actor Jack (Danson) leaves to shoot a film in Turkey for about ten weeks, but architect Peter (Selleck) and cartoonist Michael (Guttenberg) find a big surprise waiting on their doorstep. It’s a little baby, asleep in a bassinet with a note attached to it. The baby is Jack’s after an affair from long ago. The mother has sent the baby, named Mary, to the apartment. With Jack not around, Peter and Michael are forced to handle the situation, but of course know absolutely nothing about taking care of a baby. They refer to Mary as “it,” don’t know how to entertain her when she’s crying, doesn’t know what she eats, and, in one of the film’s funniest scenes, they figure out how to change a diaper. Their confusion is not helped when they go out to the store to buy baby food, and there seems to be a lot depending on the age, which they don’t know. Each day passes by and they’re still miserable and confused with this bundle. All the baby does is eat and poop. But later with each day, they actually start to love Mary.

When “Three Men and a Baby” focuses on these scenes in which these guys deal with the baby and grow to love her, it works. There are a lot of big laughs in the complaints that these men have (such as how Peter wonders if feeding the baby every two hours means from start to finish) and in how people react to the situation (a grocery clerk asks suspiciously, “You don’t know how old your own baby is?”). And then when Jack comes home, Peter and Michael use this as revenge for leaving them here with his own baby. Jack nervously tries to handle it himself, as Peter and Michael did, because “I’m an actor—I can play a father.” He tries to get his mother to help, but she sets him straight, saying it’s his turn to take care of things for himself for once.

The best moment in the movie is when all three guys softly sing the baby to sleep with “Good Night, Sweetheart.” It’s a touching, genuinely moving scene.

“Three Men and a Baby” succeeds when handling this forming relationship these men have with the baby. What doesn’t work is a tired subplot involving another package delivered to the apartment; only, this one is full of heroin. Some drug dealers come by, asking about the package, which the guys at first think they mean is the baby. Once they realize what they really want, they can’t find the package and are not only in trouble with the dealers, but also with the cops who are investing a drug-included case. And this leads to a confrontation between the men and the drug dealers in a construction site, the screenwriter’s reliable Hollywood cliché. Why, when the central story is cute and funny and heartwarming, did they have to add a subplot about drugs? It’s unnecessary, and the final confrontation is not effectively staged, even though director Leonard (Spock) Nimoy and writers James Orr and Jim Cruikshank try their best to keep it tense. I guess it’s supposed to show how far the guys will go to protect the baby, since the dealers actually leave a note saying they’ll take her next time. But we didn’t need a drug-related subplot.

But there is plenty of material with the three men and the baby that the comedy elements outweigh the “suspense” elements. All three actors do game jobs, especially Tom Selleck who does a great job mixing tenderness with light comedy. He’s convincing throughout the movie. Steve Guttenberg has good moments (such as when he tries to entertain the baby while she’s crying) and Ted Danson is credible as a snobbish, handsome actor.

“Three Men and a Baby” is a funny, moving movie when it focuses on the title roles. Sure, the screenplay doesn’t take the high road and like I said, I could’ve done without the drug stuff, but it mostly succeeds in winning us over.

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