The Third Wheel (2002) / Comedy-Romance

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language, sexual content, and brief drug use
Running Time: 91 min.

Cast: Luke Wilson, Denise Richards, Jay Lacopo, Ben Affleck, Neal Matarazzo, Mike Schwartz, Jeff Garlin, Nicole Sullivan, David Koechner, Bobby Slayton, Matt Damon (cameo), Lauren Graham (cameo)
Director: Jordan Brady
Screenplay: Jay Lacopo
Review published May 28, 2005

Filmed way back in 1999, The Third Wheel was kept in movie limbo for many years, finally seeing some theater action in Europe in 2002, years before heading straight to video in the US in 2004.  Shot in about a month, this is a low-budget excursion that just so happened to have some modest star power, and many of the actors would eventually turn into even bigger stars in the interim.  Matt Damon (Rounders, Dogma) and Ben Affleck (Forces of Nature, Armageddon) would serve as executive producers thanks to a deal they signed to develop films with Miramax, and would also have small bit roles themselves, and would give a co-starring nod to the relatively unknown Jay Lacopo, who is also the screenwriter, and previous star of Ben Affleck's first directorial gig, a short entitled, I Killed My Lesbian Wife, Hung Her Her on a Meat Hook, and Now I Have a Three-picture Deal at Disney.  It's all a very nepotistic affair; although with all of the celebrities involved, it's amazing it never did see any theatrical release in the United States.

Luke Wilson (Rushmore, Home Fries) stars as Stanley, popular in the office but still inept with the ladies.  When hotshot new employee Diana Evans (Richards, The World is Not Enough) enters the scene, it's love at first sight, but Stanley can never find to gumption to ask her out.  Finally, several years later, he makes his belated move, and she accepts.  Although he describes it as two work friends going out, the chemistry feels like it might lead to more, and soon the whole office is abuzz with how far it might go, including an office betting pool as to what base, if any, Stanley gets to.  The date starts off awkward, only to slowly take a left turn when Stanley hits hits a loony homeless man named Phil, who wants a little cash for his damages and looks like he might need a trip to the hospital, which Stanley obliges.  Phil, realizing that he has probably ruined the date, offers to make it up to Stanley somehow, much to Stanley's disdain, but Diana seems to take a liking to him, so Phil becomes the "third wheel" on their date.

The Third Wheel is a fairly thin premise for a comedy.  It's a typical date flick, except it puts the male lead in the predicament of having to suck up all of the ungraciousness of a third party for the sake of looking like a decent man in the eyes of his date.  As the evening progresses, Stanley is obviously uncomfortable, looking for a way to ditch Phil, but hoping to do so without looking like a complete heel.  There is a secondary plot involving the office workers, led by Stanley's friend Michael (Affleck), spying on them in order to score in their betting pool.  It's a superfluous angle, but Affleck's energy generates some laughs, and it does break up some of the monotony of the basic main story at times.

There are moments where the comedy clicks, while others where things get downright annoying.  One of the main reasons comes from the character of Phil himself, who is written to be as grating as possible, but the fact that he is supposed to have a soft side makes him seem altogether pathetic.  Luke Wilson, who seems to be cast regularly as the male romantic lead in comedies, is often genuinely unlikable, which does deplete from our own vested interest in seeing him become lucky in love.  When a hottie like Diana, who could have any man she wants eating out of the palm of her hand, makes goo-goo eyes at a loser with a surly attitude like Stanley, it makes her character lack any real dimension and the plot feel very contrived for a happy ending's sake.  That there is no chemistry between the two actors certainly doesn't help either.

The Third Wheel isn't a good film, but it isn't the worst film in the careers of any of the actors involved, so if you watch anything and everything with Affleck, Damon, Wilson, or Richards, you'll most likely find it at least worthy of a rental, and you might even come away liking it in a modest way at times.  It's a cheap looking and scattershot production made by relative newbies in the industry, and the amateurishness shows all too often.  For completist hardcore fans only.

 Qwipster's rating:

2005 Vince Leo