Three Men and a Baby

The history of Hollywood is rife with movies that are remakes of foreign films, but perhaps none has had a quicker turnaround time than Three Men and a Baby. It’s based on the French film Three Men and a Cradle, written and directed by Coline Serreau.

That movie was a huge hit in France and Europe. But with American moviegoers, famous for their reluctance to read dialogue across the bottom of screens, the film was not a megahit. It was released in the United States little more than a year and a half ago.

Faster than you can say baby boom, the remake has arrived, all ready for the lucrative holiday season. It will make money; everything that worked in the French version also works here. All of which makes this American version even more unnecessary.

The original has been followed almost to the letter, though of course situations have been Americanized. The story still takes place mostly in the apartment of three unbridled bachelors: an architect (Tom Selleck), a cartoonist (Steve Guttenberg), and an actor (Ted Danson). To put it mildly, this trio enjoys the uncommitted life.

Then a stranger drops a baby on the doorstep, and things change considerably. The child is Danson’s, unbeknown to him, but he’s shooting a movie in Turkey, so Selleck and Guttenberg are left to care of the little girl. With predictably clumsy results.

As with the French film, there is an utterly irrelevant subplot about some drug smuggling that has no relation to the main source of the film’s comedy. All the funny stuff has to do with watching these three helpless lugs trying to cope with baby stuff, and then watching them all turn to mush at the thought that she might be taken away from them.

It’s probably the year’s best example, in movie terms, of an absolutely sure thing – a calculated, finely-tuned holiday performer. For those of us who have seen the French version, however, it’s all going to seem warmed over.

This thing was directed by, believe it or not, Leonard Nimoy, although there are no extraterrestrials in sight. In fact, Nimoy proved himself an unexpectedly deft director of comedy with the last Star Trek movie, so his competence at provoking laughs here shouldn’t be too surprising.

At least credit Nimoy with an elegant-looking film, and with selecting an excellent bambino for the central role: Lisa and Michelle Blair. (Because of laws about how many hours a child can be on a set, baby roles are almost always played by twins.) These two girls have a devastating deadpan look that they can turn on at will – that, or Nimoy sifted through a lot of hours of footage to find their best moments.

The other performers pale in comparison, except for Tom Selleck, who does by far his most comfortable big-screen work. Actually, this movie proves that Selleck shouldn’t have been making those action movies that stiffed; he should have been making comedies. He’s obviously in his element here, and he takes over this movie as much as any actor can playing against a baby.

First published in The Herald, November 1987

This movie was huuuuge – so it strikes me funny that it has a measly 6.1 audience rating on IMDb. Too ’80s for its own good? The cast includes Nancy Travis and Margaret Colin. I really hit Nimoy hard there with the E.T. gag. Ouch. Music by Marvin Hamlisch!

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