Third Wheel, The

Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 05/22/04 16:37:03

"Deserves a better fate than 'straight to video'... but only just."
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

How many times have you seen a Ben Affleck movie go straight to video? How about 'never'? Well, welcome to the world as it is post-Gigli, where former guaranteed box office wunderkind Affleck can't get a romantic comedy to the big screen, even with help from the likes of Matt Damon, Luke Wilson and Denise Richards. When Cedric the Entertainer can get a lame comedy to 1500 screens and Affleck, Wilson and Richards can't, surely that's indicative that there's a glitch in the Matrix.

Luke Wilson is a guy in an office job that everyone loves. He's the office quiet guy - the one every woman is rooting for and every guy is betting against. He's the guy Vince Vaughn would have called "the guy in the PG-13 movie that everyone's *really* hoping makes it happen."

And in walks Denise Richards, hottie of all hotties, uber corporate sex queen goddess. Wilson flips for the supervixen, but she's got a boyfriend, so he chooses to pine for the next six months or so, while the entire staff of the company he works for take bets on whether he'll ever get up the gonads to ask her out.

So of course, once she breaks up with her man, the entire office participates in a betting party where odds are given on things such as "second base", "touching" and "whether she even shows up." To make sure all goes as it should, Wilson's good buddy (Affleck) shadows him throughout the night, reporting back on progress as it happens.

But he's not the third wheel of the title - in fact, the real third wheel comes around when a homeless guy (Jay Lacopo) is hit by Wilson's car. The guy bounces off the hood, breaks his collection of crystal animals, and duly attachs himself to the unlucky couple as they spend the evening trying to survive one misadventure after another, first trying to find an ATM with which to pay the homeless dude for his animals, then a hospital to help him ensure he hasn't broken a leg, and then... well, that'd be the whole 'hilarity ensues' part.

The core of Third Wheel is really pretty simple - that when a guy shows his true self to a woman, he ends up looking a lot more appealing than when he's playing the stud. Problem is, this film is such a low budget, 'favors for buddies' affair that nobody ever really bothers to ensure the end product is sellable to a mass audience.

The Third Wheel doesn't just look cheap, it runs cheap. The script is full of moments of inspired comedy, followed by long periods of yawn-inducing foot-dragging. The initial concept might have worked far better had Wilson been thrown into situations that were harsher, or harder to escape, or Marx Brothers-like, instead of just throwing annoyance after annoyance at him until we've filled enough time to warrant wrapping things up.

Wilson himself looks completely uncomfortable in surroundings that don't include his brother Owen being the funny guy, or Wes Anderson telling him what to say, while Affleck chews the scenery like it was made out of the backsides of high class strippers. Jay Lacopo, who also wrote the screenplay, enjoys a mixed outing as the Wheel, but the real star of this show, surprisingly, is Denise Richards, who turns in the kind of personality-infused performance that has not become her stereotype.

Richards will never be a Dame Judi Dench, to be sure, but when she's allowed to be a normal (if exceptionally good looking) woman in an underplayed role, she's more than capable of stealing the show entirely. She has the kind of smile that melts the lesser men amongst us in an instant, an infectious laugh, and a complete lack of affectation. Quite the pity that she'll always be known for her roles in such crap as Wild Things and Undercover Brother, when she could have been the go-to girl in romantic comedies if only she was being shepherded by better representation.

Ultimately, The Third Wheel sucks, but it sucks a lot less than many films of its kind, with lesser names and worse screenplays, which are for some reason put on a whole lot more screens. The Third Wheel is a good rental, and one which I wouldn't have been pissed off at had I seen it on a big screen.

Well, maybe a little pissed off, but not 'Master of Disguise' pissed off...

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