Boy Meets Girl Meets Boy

ALEX AND EDDY AND STUART ARE thrown together as college room- mates. There's one embarrassing glitch: Alex (Lara Flynn Boyle) is a girl. Nor does the pairing of party-animal Stuart (Stephen Baldwin) and introspective Eddy (Josh Charles) seem auspicious: one decorates his wall with bare-bottomed cheerleaders, the other hangs his poster of Munch's "The Scream." Unlikely as it may seem, these three form - for a time - an inseparable bond, glued together by raging hormones. Stuart lusts after Alex; Alex lusts after Eddy; and Eddy, our "sexually ambivalent" narrator, lusts after Stuart.

a merrily libidinous comedy, has sex on the brain. The only time the jock hedonist Stuart ever cracks a book (Dostoevsky no less) -it's just a ploy to seduce Alex- and it backfires. But to criticize "Threesome" for its narrow focus on college life misses the point. This isn't an angst-filled recollection but a guiltfree fantasy. Thirty-one-year-old writer/ director Andrew Fleming, working in swift, bold, audience-friendly strokes, captures the giddy anticipation of sexual possibilities that every undergraduate, first freed from the constraints of family, ever dreamed of. Alex and Stuart and Eddy, vowing a solemn and soon-to-be-broken oath to refrain from sleeping with each other, form their own self-absorbed family, arrogant in its cliquishness but, for all its kinkiness, essentially innocent.

Fleming's funny, deceptively smart screenplay manages to mate Noel Coward and "Animal House." (Talk about strange bedfellows!) Both gross and sophisticated, this twentysomething cartoon couldn't fly unless the chemistry among the three actors were right. And it is. Boyle (from "Twin Peaks") seems freer, earthier, than she has before: she lets rip her wonderfully throaty Irish laugh. Stressed out with the frustration of this lopsided menage a trois, she regresses hilariously into an exasperated child: "I need new shoes!" Baldwin-the youngest of the four acting Baldwin brothers-has the funniest part; under his Neanderthal facade, he reveals a sweet, endearing clownishness. Charles, the sober one, anchors the story in real feeling. Usually, in such a mainstream kind of movie, the gay character is relegated to the sidelines; a token outsider. "Threesome," refreshingly, makes him the andience's surrogate, the voice of something like reason.

There are many ways Fleming's movie could have cut deeper. Some scenes, like Lara's Harry and Sallyish pantomime of an orgasm on a library table, exist only for easy yucks. Fleming keeps things on the surface, but it's a bright, generous surface. Like the current Spanish-art-house hit and Oscarwinner "Belle Epoque" (in which a young Spanish soldier sleeps with the four obliging daughters of his host), "Threesome" uses knockabout sexual fantasy to offer up a pipe dream of Eden-albeit a pop, pizzastrewn, polymorphously perverse Eden. Fleming's vision may be less tony than the overrated Best Foreign Film, but it's truer. And a lot more fun.