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With: Luke Wilson, Denise Richards, Jay Lacopo, Ben Affleck, Phill Lewis, Deborah Theaker, Melissa McCarthy, Tim DeKay, Greg Pitts, Wayne Federman, Neal Matarazzo, Marcus DeJohn, Marilyn Staley, Veena Bidasha, David Koechner, Matthew Maher, Meredith Salenger, Bobby Slayton, Phil Reeves, Steven Shenbaum, Lauren Graham (uncredited), Matt Damon (uncredited)
Written by: Jay Lacopo
Directed by: Jordan Brady
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content/dialogue and brief drug use
Running Time: 87
Date: 05/31/2002

The Third Wheel (2002)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Grind Date

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Miramax usually does one of two things to a movie. It either saturates it to the point of nausea or it completely ignores it, sometimes not even bothering to release it at all. I know from experience that the quality of the movie has very little to do with their decision, and, very often, the ignored movies are the best ones.

So when The Third Wheel, a three-year old romantic comedy starring Luke Wilson and Denise Richards, arrived on Miramax DVD, I was intrigued rather than disgusted. It's awfully difficult going in: Wilson plays a shallow office worker who falls in love with the new girl at his office (Richards) but waits a year before he works up the courage to ask her out. The early scenes suffer from overly contrived sitcom moments that threaten to engulf the entire film. While he plans the perfect evening for her, his co-workers -- led by Ben Affleck -- set up an elaborate betting pool, based on how far he gets on his date. It begins awkwardly, with terrible lulls in the conversation. Things get worse when Wilson runs over a pedestrian (Jay Lacopo, who also wrote the screenplay). Fortunately, it turns out this pedestrian is something of a guardian angel. He begins to hang out on the date and gives the couple something to bond over. And so, just when the movie should be getting more annoying, it becomes highly enjoyable -- thanks to Lacopo's warm performance.

In one great scene, Matt Damon shows up in a cameo as Richards' jealous ex-boyfriend. He starts to pick a fight, but Lacopo pulls him aside, says just the right thing in the right tone of voice, and gets Damon to cry on his shoulder. (Damon and Affleck served as producers on this film.) Wilson lays on that easygoing charm, mixing it up with just a little stupidity and stiffness, and Richards comes across warmer and more delightful than ever before; she's usually cast for her looks as a trophy girl. Who would have thought she could carry a movie? Even Affleck is right on target, playing what he does best -- a goofball in a supporting role. Cursed with leading man looks, he's almost always miscast in movies he can't carry. It's refreshing to see that he is good at something. The first time we see him it's at the office Halloween party; he's dressed as "your dad" -- a fat, balding man.

But I've saved the biggest surprise for the end credits; a kind of silly musical number that has to be seen to be truly believed. Don't allow the straight-to-video stigma to steer you away from this delightful film.

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