[box cover]

The Third Wheel

Though most celebrities have numerous skeletons in their closet, the Weinstein Brothers' mini-studio Miramax (and Dimension) have had more movies buried than Elizabeth Taylor has had lovers and husbands. For some reason, 2004 seems the year many of the skeletons have been unearthed; it brought out Buffalo Soldiers to DVD, Shaolin Soccer (2001) has received limited release, Hero (2002) is on track for release (with Tarantino attached), Billy Bob Thorton's long delayed Daddy and Them was put onto DVD, and now Miramax finally has unearthed The Third Wheel (1998). Wheel was the first Matt-Damon-and-Ben-Affleck-produced effort following their Oscar-winning 1997 success Good Will Hunting — only the brothers Weinstein thought it might sully their career, so it was hid away in the interim, only to be released in foreign territories in 2002. Like Next Stop Wonderland (1998) — another Weinstein pick-up that flopped — the film is so slight that it's easy to see why they thought they'd have trouble marketing it. But on its own merits, it's relatively harmless. Luke Wilson stars as Stanley, a shy office worker who's immediately attracted to Diana (Denise Richards) when she joins his workplace, but it becomes obvious at a Christmas party that she's got a boyfriend. When she's finally single — more than a year later — Stanley finally makes a move, to the delight of his co-workers. They feel so involved with Stanley's date that, through co-worker Michael (Ben Affleck), a betting pool on how long the date will last is established, while Michael arranges a party and spies to track Stanley's progress. But things get complicated when Stanley literally runs over Phil (Jay Locopo), a homeless guy who finagles his way to follow them on their date. It seems Phil's glass collection was damaged when the two collided, and Stanley can't find an operating cash machine to properly pay Phil back. But Phil is not what he seems, and like Bill Murray's gangster character in Mad Dog and Glory, he is both a hindrance and benevolent angel to Stanley's character. First dates tend to be hard and awkward for both parties, and drawing the comedy of discomfort out of this situation is the film's biggest problem (and many of the jokes fall totally flat), but both Wilson and Richards generate enough charm and likability to suffer through some of the script's more awkward comedic moments. The two generate enough chemistry for this to be a passable rom-com, though both are ably assisted by comedic turns by Matt Damon and SNL alum David Koechner. Directed by Jordan Brady, The Third Wheel shows all the earmarks of films of its period; it's a relationship comedy shot in that hand-held, low-budget style that seemed to be the stock-in trade for all movies of this type and era (including — but not limited to — Walking and Talking and Chasing Amy). Miramax presents the title in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras consist of a Duplex trailer and a Miramax promotional reel. Keep-case.

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