Three Wise Men and a Baby (2022)

There's a lot to discuss about Hallmark's relatively big Christmas comedy, Three Wise Men and a Baby (including the fact it's surprisingly decent), and I'll try and get to as much as possible. But the first thing that jumps out at me is admittedly a silly thing, albeit one I can't stop thinking about. Like a lot of Hallmark's annual offerings, this is obviously a spin on an existing franchise, namely the "Three Men and a Baby" series, itself a remake of the French comedy, "Trois Hommes et un Couffin." Before you ask, I haven't seen the French movie, though I'll admit I'm now weirdly curious. As for the 1987 American film, I believe I watched it once, likely sometime in the late '80s or early '90s. As to whether it was a VHS copy rented from Nicely's Video or a version edited for television... well, I'm afraid those details are lost to time. I barely remember the movie, aside from the fact I'm fairly certain one or more of the leads was peed on, and a skim of Wikipedia didn't do much to jog my memory. It seems to have been mostly forgotten.

So it's kind of weird Hallmark's dredging it up, right? I've got a pretty good idea why they felt referencing this '80s comedy would be a good idea (and further why they're probably right), but on the surface, Three Men and a Baby isn't exactly the most obvious franchise to resuscitate.

But of course, this isn't actually part of that franchise. And that's actually the aspect of all this I find the hardest to wrap my head around. Honestly, I find it surprising they're able to produce films that are this close in title and premise to existing intellectual property without falling afoul of copyright lawsuits. I'm sure their lawyers know what they're doing (hell, they might have purchased the rights for all I know), but some of these strike me as really pushing the boundary between referencing and outright implying this is a continuation of an existing film series. Casting Margaret Colin, who appeared in Three Men and Baby, as the mother of the titular "Wise Men" is fairly on-the-nose, as well. Her character has a different name, but it's easy to imagine someone inferring this is in continuity.

None of this has anything to do with the quality of the movie itself, which - as I said before - is refreshingly decent. In fact, depending on your enjoyment of and/or tolerance of Hallmark Christmas movie tropes, your reaction might be significantly more favorable. I'm not the company's biggest fan, so I'm settling somewhere between "fine" and "pretty good."

First, let's talk premise, because - contrary to how the first three paragraphs might read - this isn't just a knock-off of a thirty-five-year-old comedy. From a somewhat meta perspective, Three Wise Men and a Baby has more to do with the cast than the story. This is ultimately an excuse to take three of Hallmark's most popular actors and give them lead roles alongside each other.

The actors in question are Paul Campbell, Tyler Hynes, and Andrew W. Walker. Skimming their extensive Hallmark credits, I was a little surprised to find I didn't see any Christmas movies I've seen with any of them. Then again, we've basically been out of the loop when it comes to Hallmark more or less since the inception of this blog, both because we've been prioritizing theatrically released Christmas movies and because similar productions from other companies were more readily available. I suppose watching this is a quick way to get up to speed.

The three actors play brothers in the film, with Margaret Colin taking the role of their mom, who raised them as a single parent after their dad left. The brothers are distinct: you've got an over-achieving fireman (Luke, played by Walker), a neurotic pet therapist (Stephan, played by Campbell), and a cynical game designer (Taylor, played by Hynes). They don't get along, and their mom's one Christmas wish is for the family to be together.

A little before Christmas a baby is dropped off at the fire station with a note asking Luke to look after him for the holidays. Luke insists the child isn't his, and no one knows who the mother is. After some discussion, the family decides to hold onto the kid and only call child protective services if the mother doesn't materialize. Almost immediately, an extended family emergency sidelines the mother, leaving the three single brothers to look after the infant. Hijinks predictably commence.

The experience causes the men to confront the difficulties of raising a kid, which in turn sheds new light on how hard it must have been for their mother to raise them alone. They also confront their own limitations and grow as people.

The movie culminates in them trying to win a Christmas decoration competition in order to give their mother the Christmas she deserves. This is mostly an excuse for them to dress up as the three Wise Men and make fools of themselves. To the movie's credit, they don't win (or even come close), but the experience brings them closer together, which is all their mother wanted in the first place. 

Speaking of mothers, the baby's mom turns out to be a woman who Luke briefly met when she was in labor and made an impression. She needed time to get her life together, so she anonymously left her infant son with him. The movie is quick to breeze past all this, which... I mean... you'll probably not want to think too hard about that, but some awkwardness comes with the trope. Luke offers to help in any way he can, and an afterword set a year later implies they're probably a couple.

The other two brothers have love interests, as well, in the form of an equally neurotic client for Stephan and a coworker for Taylor, but those subplots play out about as by-the-numbers as these get.

There are several elements separating Wise Men from virtually every other Hallmark (and Hallmark adjacent) TV Christmas movie I've seen, starting with the script. Simply put, this is far more competently written than I'm used to from this genre, with fun characters, clever lines of dialogue, and decent structure. A great deal of credit should also go to the cast. In particular, Hynes is fantastic as the family's weakest link, though - in fairness to the others - his part clearly offered the most comedic potential. Similarly, this was simply better directed than I'm used to from the genre. There were some fun comedic shots and entertaining staging that made this feel at times like an actual movie. 

All that said, I really want to be careful not to oversell this. If you're not already on board with Hallmark movies (which, for the millionth time, I am most certainly not), you're probably not going to love how overly sentimental the ending becomes. In addition, while the movie is willing to slightly push the boundaries, it's still avoiding any real suspense. One defining feature of these is an aversion to anything that could make the audience feel tense, so it sacrifices actual drama for feel-good vibes. To some people, that's a feature, but I consider it a major limitation in virtually all these productions.

On a similar subject, this remains extremely adverse to topics related to sexuality, though not quite to the degree of most of these movies. Most Hallmark TV Christmas films I've seen effectively outlaw any implication of physical attraction or even the vaguest insinuation that sex exists in any form. This is a little looser with those rules, though still in a decidedly G-rated form. Even so, the presence of a scene where a character is asked if he's sure he's not a child's father feels downright revolutionary from this prudish studio. The vehemence with which Luke denies the possibility feels like it's opening the door to a revelation about his sexuality, but if Hallmark was ready to make that movie, these characters wouldn't be brothers. 

In short, this is far from a great movie, though I expect Hallmark aficionados would disagree. What it is, however, is a passable movie, which is an impressive achievement not just for Hallmark but for any TV movie. Because when I say passable, I'm comparing it to actual, theatrically released comedies. That's difficult to pull off even on a relatively high TV budget.

It's also worth remarking that this is, of course, not made for me. It's pretty clear Wise Men was engineered to cater to several generations of women. The movie's themes of appreciating motherhood and repairing family dynamics is geared towards older women, who - I suspect intentionally - are right at the age to get a nostalgic kick from a reference to a comedy from 1987. On top of that, casting three of the biggest actors in TV Christmas movies is a play for younger Hallmark fans, who also skew female and likely appreciate one of the men appearing shirtless at the start of the movie.

Speaking of which, let's circle back to the issue of the characters' sexuality. Textually, of course, these are three straight men, and they're related. The subtext, however, is a little more complicated. The dynamics between the actors feel like they're teasing the idea of having two of the three actors someday appear as romantic leads. The dialogue at times feels more like the playful banter of a couple than a family, and - again - I suspect that's intentional. Hallmark surely knows how fan culture works, and this movie feels like it was made to encourage it rather than quell it. Even if you don't see that in the movie itself, it's hard to miss the insinuation at the end of this promo.

Did I like Three Wise Men and a Baby? Eh. I enjoyed the first half, while it was more focused on laughs than manufacturing Hallmark-brand feeling. I'm not saying any of this ranks against the great comedies of all time, but I can easily think of a half-dozen or so theatrically released comedies significantly worse than this. Even the latter part (which, again, I didn't care for due to stylistic choices) is clearly executed at an unusually high level for the company.

Does any of that warrant a recommendation? Well, not unless you like Hallmark movies. This thing is carefully constructed to reward fans, and in that regard, it succeeds. I don't think other viewers will be repulsed - it's a solid film - but it's still an entry in a niche genre with some pretty large obstacles. So take that as an enthusiastic recommendation to those of you who already enjoy these and a tepid shrug to everyone else. Not a lot of people are going to hate this, but you've got to be a bigger fan than me to love it.