For a film that’s been in development for well over a decade, you’d think that the Farrelly brothers would have taken that time to make sure they actually understood and got what’s made the Three Stooges so memorable and still funny after all these years. It’s not just about the slapstick. Hell, watching three guys just smack the shit out of each other can get awfully repetitive unless you’ve come to care about who’s doing the smacking. There was always a lovable nature to the Stooges – Larry, Curly and Moe – that made their slapstick act resonate. They were good-hearted and childlike, always trying to do the right thing, even though that right thing usually meant someone’s wrong thing was getting foiled and they’d be physically punished as a result (unbeknownst to the Stooges of course). That’s what made their violence so funny. They were oblivious to it happening to others, and, when done to each other, it was more an act of endearment than anything else… you know, like we so lovingly call our friends “asshole” and “bitch.” Whether they were looking to get paid or help out someone in need, the slapstick became a by-product of the Stooges and helped define the Stooges, but their act was more than three guys standing around hitting each other. I’m not so sure the Farrellys’ THREE STOOGES realizes that.
Told through a set of three shorts that aren’t really shorts, because the film is constructed more as one longer film that’s just broken up into three connected segments, THE THREE STOOGES follows Moe, Larry and Curly as they try to save the Sisters of Mercy Orphanage from closing, needing to raise $830,000 within 30 days. Only it’s not the real Moe, Larry and Curly, as the last of the most recognizable version of the trio died almost 30 years ago. It’s Chris Diamantopoulos (Moe), Sean Hayes (Larry) and Will Sasso (Curly) in their place, basically acting as Three Stooges impersonators doing a Three Stooges film. The Farrellys try to get you to care about this version of the Stooges by taking you back to their childhood days, back to when their special bond was formed by Moe turning down being adopted in order to not be separated from his two buds. Now I never needed an explanation as to why the Three Stooges remained so close, even as frying pans to the face were being dished out with regularity. I don’t need any part of their origin to be laid out for me, and its inclusion in THE THREE STOOGES feels completely out of place as it makes up nearly 1/3 of the movie. Could the Farrellys not come up with enough material for the adult Stooges? After all, who wants to spend time watching kid Stooges in action anyway?
However, where THE THREE STOOGES feels the strangest is in its assumption that the audience will just be able to watch these three actors and accept them as continuations of the original Stooge personas. It may be easier for someone who’s never watched the Stooges before, but, as someone who was shown their brand of comedy at a very early age, THE THREE STOOGES feels like a fraud. It’s the equivalent of your uncle renting out a six-foot yellow pigeon costume for your birthday and calling himself Big Bird. That’s NOT Big Bird, and, no matter how badly the Farrellys and their cast want you to believe it, these are NOT the Three Stooges.
There are a few scattered laughs to be had throughout the film, because the Stooges’ act lends itself to naturally be funny. However, the Farrellys just couldn’t leave well enough alone in letting the Stooges be the Stooges. They had to incorporate their own brand of humor into the flick as well, which then just sets up situations where it’s the Farrellys’ Stooges more than anything else. There’s the stench of desperation to putting the Stooges in this modern era with forced jokes about Facebook poking, Twitter and iPhones. Bringing the crew of THE JERSEY SHORE really scrapes the bottom of the barrel, because if it looks like pandering, that’s because it probably is. Begging for the Stooges to be relevant with younger audiences today by involving the worst of the worst when it comes to their entertainment doesn’t create any laughs. It creates groans and face palming. I’m sure the Farrellys thought I’d be living the dream vicariously through Moe by watching him smack around the likes of Snooki, J-Woww and The Situation… but it’s not funny when their very presence makes me annoyed. I don’t want to see them take a beating. I just don’t want to see them. But back to the Farrellys’ sense of humor... Toilet humor and fart jokes have no place in a Stooges picture. Neither do nut shots, which really becomes the classless version of the Stooges’ beatings. Having a food fight, complete with pie throwing, is perfectly acceptable. Having a pee shoot-out is not.
There are more subtle nods to what made the Stooges funny outside of that slapstick. The names of a couple of law firms in the film – Kickham, Harter & Indagroyne and Ditcher, Quick & Hyde – are perfect examples. There’s also at least one standout Stooge – Sean Hayes as Larry. Hayes seems to be the only one of the three that isn’t altered into a caricature, with Sasso reduced to an overuse of Curly mannerisms. Hayes though is able to stick it out as that middle Stooge that never received a lot of attention, and, in sticking with that formula, his take on Larry remains consistent with that of the original. He’s not too much in the forefront, and he’s not at all forgotten. He’s featured just the right amount and is really the glue that keeps the Stooges together. Diamantopolous may have the look and speech pattern of Moe correct, but it’s the decision to take Moe into reality TV that really does a disservice to his work and ruins the character. Larry David also makes a strong adversarial nun during the Stooges’ time at the orphanage. This could have easily been dismissed as gimmick casting, but David takes the surliness from his CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM persona and injects it into Sister Mary-Mengele.
THE THREE STOOGES isn’t anywhere near as bad as I was expected it to be, but that doesn’t mean it’s particularly good either. You’ll find yourself laughing in spots, but really the whole film feels unnecessary. I could have gotten a much better experience sitting at home watching the old black and whites than I did watching imposters try to pull off the same material at the movies. I’m slightly curious to see how things may have worked out with Jim Carrey, Sean Penn and Benicio del Toro in the Stooge roles, but I get the feeling it would have been more of the same… three guys who aren’t the Stooges pretending to be the Stooges, only with bigger name value.
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