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'Three Men and a Baby' (PG)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 25, 1987

Hollywood is birthing cabbage-patch comedies faster than caged bunnies in love.

"Three Men and a Baby," the latest in the pediatric genre, is simply "Baby Boom" for the boys. Three bachelor roommates trade beaujolais for baby formula when an infant is left in their foyer. And their lives are the better for it.

Tom Selleck, Steve Guttenberg and Ted Danson star as top-of-the-line career guys -- Peter the architect, Michael the cartoonist and Jack the movie star -- whose ongoing adolescence is disrupted by an adorable 6-month-old. Twins Lisa and Michelle Blair steal scenes as Mary, the cooing heroine of this sweet-natured remake of the French farce "3 Men and a Cradle." The American adaptation is bigger and bolder, but retains the shortcomings as well as the cachet of the original.

Jack is on location in Turkey when an old flame abandons their love child at the apartment along with a note saying she can no longer cope. Jack's resentful roommates come to appreciate her problems as they contend with "doodles" and diaper changes. Their first, frankly explicit look at a dirty Huggie is a classic of low comedy. "Did this little girl really do all this?" exclaims Michael, nostrils squeezed shut and eyes round as golf balls.

When Jack finally returns, Peter and Michael are only too happy to push Mary into his arms. Jack is blasť, figuring he can ditch the kid with his mom (Celeste Holm). The American film uses her brief appearance to lecture Jack on his responsibilities. (The French version more cleverly used it as a chance to make a statement on the young old. The Gallic granny couldn't be bothered because she was going on a cruise.) Of course, Jack grows more maternal than anyone, even dressing in maternity drag before the whole thing's resolved.

Danson plays the egomaniacal Jack laxly. The "Cheers" star doesn't seem to be enjoying himself, much less to be committed to his crucial but smaller role. The nondescript Guttenberg is low-key as ever in a quietly likable performance as the childlike Michael.

But Selleck owns the movie with his eager yet easy performance as Peter -- a picture of the protective parent, clutching Mary close as he surveys a construction site, she completing the family portrait in her little pink hard hat. The architect as Madonna. Even the cherubic leading lady doesn't upstage the deeply dimpled Selleck, whose self-effacing comic savvy recalls the best of Burt Reynolds. After all those action fiascoes, Selleck's liberated in his first full-blown comedic role.

As long as the script tracks the men's relationship with the baby, the picture is lively froth. But when screen writers James Orr and Jim Cruickshank of "Tough Guys" stray, the story goes stale. They felt obliged to Americanize the movie with a love-that-baby video. And they also enlarged upon, rather than cut, the intrusive subplot in Coline Serreau's 1986 original, involving a package of heroin that has the heroes chasing gangsters with Mary in tow.

Director Leonard Nimoy doesn't put these two plots together any better than Serreau did in the original. Nimoy combined character with action more deftly in "Star Trek IV." But where Mr. Spock meets Dr. Spock, the farce succeeds -- a sugared tribute to the involved '80s father and an oh-so-understanding overview of the tribulations of upscale moms. DINKs may regard it as propaganda in a blanket.

Copyright The Washington Post

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