“It Takes Three” – More or less [MOVIE REVIEW]

Mikey Madison as Kat Walker and Jared Gilman as Cy Berger in "It Takes Three." Photo courtesy of GUNPOWDER & SKY

Mikey Madison as Kat Walker and Jared Gilman as Cy Berger in “It Takes Three.” Photo courtesy of GUNPOWDER & SKY

Scott Coffey, director of “It Takes Three,” began as an actor having bit roles in two John Hughes movies including the iconic “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Working with a script by Logan Burdick and Blair Mastbaum, based on that eternal chestnut, Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand, Coffey imagines “It Takes Three” as an homage to Hughes. Sadly he misses his mark by a country mile.

Piling on the lewd set ups and jokes and making our hero the son of two mothers does not a modern movie make. High school is high school, whether in the 50s, 60s, 70s or today. Kids are mean and will always put a target on the forehead of the weak and Cy Berger (get it? Cy Berger —Cyrano de Bergerac?) is just that person. Cy, raised on “you are your own best self”-type mantras by his moms, is a realist. All his facial features are just completely out of sync and plastic surgery is what he thinks he needs to be popular. He, like every other high school outcast, is unable to see his positives, a situation made more difficult as videos of him getting turned down for Prom because he’s not sex-worthy go viral. He has only his bestie Kat Walker to rely on.

Enter Christian, oops, I mean Chris Newton, most popular guy on campus with a live feed attracts a massive number of followers waiting for his next skateboarding video and a show of his biceps (a running theme about his body prowess and narcissism). New girl, Roxy, arrives and clueless Cy is unable to see that she is intrigued with his offbeat intellect (something that Kat gets and cherishes). But in this Cyrano-inspired scenario, Chris wants Roxy, and she couldn’t be less interested in a self-centered dumb jock. What to do? What to do? Why of course! Faster than you can say Edmond Rostand, Chris hires Cy to tutor him in the right things to say. Joined together by an earplug and remote microphone, Cy guides him in all the right moves that are the antithesis of who Chris is but are perfect for Roxy.

If you’ve ever seen any of the myriad versions of this famous play, including the original itself, there have been 23 according to Wikipedia (among the better American versions were “The Truth About Cats and Dogs,” “Roxanne,” and “Whatever It Takes.”), you know how this ends up except that Cy doesn’t die, at least not literally.

Aurora Perrineau as Roxy and David Gridley as Chris Newton in “It Takes Three.” Photo courtesy of GUNPOWDER & SKY.

It’s not that there can’t be endless versions of this marvelous story because anything done well is worth watching. This isn’t done well. The team of Coffey and his writers have forgotten that plot alone doesn’t carry a film, regardless of how good the plot is and plots don’t get much better than convoluted love triangles. The character development just isn’t there and in the end the only person we care about is Kat, a smart girl who has been betrayed. Roxy gets an honorable mention but once the plot to deceive begins, her previously cynical character becomes emotionally stunted.

Some of the inadequacy is in the acting because the director decided to go for the obvious. Everyone is a stereotype and, for the most part they play it as such. Again the exception is Mikey Madison as Kat who delivers on the promise she shows as an actress in the television dramedy “Better Things.” Aurora Perrineau, Roxy, shows depth in her delivery and if it doesn’t develop it is because the script abandons her. Both Jared Gilman, Cy, and David Gidley, Chris, have very little to work with. The cool high school principal, as played by Anya Marina, gets to sing at Prom and wow her students? This is probably just an opportunity for Marina to sing because it certainly doesn’t advance plot, character, or dimension.

If John Hughes were still around (he died too young in 2009), he’d be scratching his head. As funny and outrageous as his plots could be, he was first and foremost a writer of character. You may forget the plots of the most famous films he wrote and directed (“Sixteen Candles,” Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” and “The Breakfast Club”) but I bet you remember the characters, all fully fleshed out and memorable. Hughes understood the importance of good writing, especially in comedy where the jokes can sometimes derail deeper issues. Perhaps Coffey would do well to go back and watch those films again.

Opening September 3 on digital platforms and On Demand.

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