Three’s a pleasant enough crowd in “You, Me and Dupree,” a middling third-wheel comedy elevated a couple of notches by the ineffably weird charms of Owen Wilson. Proceeding from a conventional easy-laugh premise — a pair of newlyweds forced to put up with an obnoxious houseguest — pic sidesteps the potential gross-out monotony of its setup by heading in an unexpected and dramatically effective direction, though rarely eliciting more than a chuckle along the way. Still, the strong cast and genial execution should have broad demographic appeal, making this a welcome (and financially self-supporting) lodger in Universal’s summer house.
Land developer Carl Peterson (Matt Dillon) would seem to have a great life: He’s just married a beautiful schoolteacher, Molly (Kate Hudson), received a hefty promotion at work, and moved into a classy suburban neighborhood. Unfortunately, his new home is about to be crashed and partially immolated by his best friend, Randy Dupree (Wilson), an affable blond bum who has just been fired and evicted and has nowhere else to go.
Predictably, Dupree’s “temporary” stay leads to all sorts of unwanted (and sporadically amusing) shenanigans involving skateboard accidents, clogged toilets and some involuntary coitus interruptus, as when Molly walks in on Dupree and his new girlfriend re-enacting a scene from “Last Tango in Paris.” To their credit, brothers Anthony and Joe Russo (helming their second feature after the heist comedy “Welcome to Collinwood”) don’t overdo the sight gags and keep up a fairly swift pace from one pratfall to the next.
As Molly’s patience with Dupree wears thin, Carl faces even bigger problems with his boss, Mr. Thompson, who also happens to be his new father-in-law (Michael Douglas, last seen with Dillon in “One Night at McCool’s”). Thompson barely conceals his contempt for Carl, undermining his projects and making insulting suggestions that he adopt Molly’s last name and undergo a vasectomy.
Merely the latest addition to Douglas’ roster of rich, tyrannical CEOs, Thompson is an all-too-convenient villain who turns Carl into an irritable crank, forcing Molly to seek comfort from an unlikely source. As Dupree cleans up his act, he morphs from accident-prone nuisance into lovable substitute husband — a reversal that, as worked out in Mike LeSieur’s screenplay and played by Wilson, comes off as surprisingly canny.
Wilson’s amiable slacker charm masks a wholly alert sense of comic delivery and, crucially, a knowledge of how to play annoying without annoying the audience. The character Dupree is smarter and more complicated than he looks — selfish but selfless, irresponsible but resourceful, clueless but sensitive, mediocre but inspiring. Much of the pic’s humor originates from the sheer silliness of Wilson’s appearance; few thesps can wear a pastel-purple bandana with such imperturbable conviction.
Offering solid support are Dillon, whose suggestion of an underlying rage makes him an ideal straight man; and Hudson, whose Molly is almost too sweet, sensible and sexy to be true. Seth Rogen (“The 40 Year Old Virgin”) also makes a potent impression as Carl’s even more obnoxious friend Neil, offering an ugly alternate view of married life.
If the Russos demonstrate a skill for directing actors, their sense of resolution isn’t at the same level. After several third-act stabs at humor that fall flat — including a violent chase sequence that goes on far too long — pic belabors its conclusion with a series of face-to-face reconciliations that feel obligatory.
A random appearance by Harry Dean Stanton as a local drunk suggests the actor’s best scenes — along with his reason for appearing in the first place — were left on the cutting-room floor. Lance Armstrong also has a cameo that’s decidedly inferior to his work in “Dodgeball.”