THREE MEN -- that's how a lot of jokes start, as in, "Three men walk into a bar and. . ." But jokes, as we know, have punchlines. "Three Men and A Baby," Hollywood's latest, er, cribbing of a French hit has none.
The three stars, in case you don't watch television or notice newspaper ads, are Tom "Magnum" Selleck, Steve "Police Academies Ad Infinitum" Guttenberg and Ted "I Am Not Gary Hart" Danson. They are three oh-so-cute, oh-so-Manhattan, oh-so-wild and crazy bachelors. They live in a multiroom apartment with a view of Central Park, which has got to cost them half-a-million bucks a month. And if you like these people, you really should read Donald Trump's book.
While Ted Danson (you won't remember their characters' names) is in Istanbul for a brief acting job, a baby shows up outside the men's door with an angry note attached. Seems Danson did some damage in Connecticut and the mother wants him to take over. Selleck and Guttenberg are obliged to fill in for Danson until he returns -- which means changing, feeding, placating. The predictable chain of events that you already laughed at once in the French version (by Coline Serreau) ensues. It wasn't that funny in "Baby Boom," either. The only one who comes away with some kind of dignity is Selleck who becomes a sort of endearing den mother.
Director Leonard Nimoy does not use his ears for comedy -- nor his eyes, even. His three leads recite their lines as though they wanted to take their jumbo-sized salaries and run -- which, given this movie, maybe isn't such a dumb idea.
In keeping with Serreau's 1986 original, there is a side plot -- well, let's try this on: A director of commercials who goes from New York to the West Coast from time to time asks you for a favor. It involves someone delivering a "package" to your apartment. Someone else will pick it up the following day. Then, he says, he'd appreciate it if you didn't mention this to anyone.
Yeah, right. As you can guess, the thing's stuffed with heroin. And Danson, who agreed to do this very favor, appears to have no suspicions at all. The police are on to the drug deal and stake out the apartment. Selleck and Guttenberg have their hands full -- with a crying baby and various shady characters. Mother finally returns and they work out a group house arrangement and you just hope the baby girl, when she grows up, gets out of the apartment and meets some real people.
THREE MEN AND A BABY (PG) -- At area theaters.