A rather weak, overly contrived attempt at '30s-style screwball farce, "3 Men and a Little Lady" provides a few chuckles here and there but is so light it's likely to be forgotten before the end credits are finished.
Fans of "3 Men and a Baby," which was the biggest moneymaker of 1987, may be pleased enough to make this sequel a moderate hit, however.The first film, a remake of a French comedy, was, of course, the story of three free-wheeling New York bachelors living together - architect Peter (Tom Selleck), cartoonist Michael (Steve Guttenberg), actor Jack (Ted Danson) - and the infant left on their doorstep. The sequel begins five years later as little Mary (Robin Weisman) is now a 6-year-old living with her three "fathers" and her mother Sylvia (Nancy Travis).
The main plot revolves around Sylvia's being romanced by a British director who wants to marry her and move mother and daughter to England. While Peter, Michael and Jack acknowledge that it is probably time to change the living arrangement so Mary doesn't become confused as she enters school and has to account for three dads, they're not crazy about her moving so far away.
It also becomes apparent that Peter and Sylvia are in love, but neither will take the necessary step to let the other know for sure.
So, Sylvia decides to get married to her Englishman, takes Mary with her and the boys go back to being "swinging bachelors." Of course, they are now older, wiser and out of it - wild parties no longer hold the same appeal. (A funny gag has Selleck playing dance music, unaware that the cassette he has just put in the machine is "Sesame Street's" Ernie singing "Rubber Duckie.")
It isn't long before the trio also heads for England, with the idea in the back of their minds that this wedding will not go off as planned.
Here and there, "3 Men and a Little Lady" does have some inventive sight gags and there's a cute rap song in place of the last film's lullaby and, of course, that very likable cast. Selleck is particularly appealing here - he just seems to grow as a performer with every movie he makes - and Danson's character exhibits fewer obnoxious traits this time around and gets a couple of chuckles with a Carmen Miranda costume and a vicar impersonation.
But everything about this film is so obvious and easy that is isn't long before the audience is predicting everything that's coming.
When it finally winds down to the frenetic wedding sequence, there are echoes of the golden age of screwball comedies, from "It Happened One Night" to "The Philadelphia Story" - but they are faint echoes indeed.
This sequel was written by Charlie Peters, who has rehashed the golden era of movies before, with "Paternity," "Kiss Me Goodbye" and "Her Alibi," and it was directed by Emile Ardolino, whose "Dirty Dancing" and especially "Chances Are" likewise play off other, better films. Evidence shows us that neither Peters nor Ardolino has learned the value of a light touch, that a little goes a long way.
On the whole, "3 Men and a Little Lady" resembles a TV sitcom, with heavy doses of sentiment for tears and everything from slapstick to broad English stereotypes - including a doddering butler and a spinster headmistress - for laughs. (The headmistress is played with spirited fun by Fiona Shaw.)
It is rated PG for a few profanities and vulgarities.