A film review by Craig J. Koban April 19, 2012


2012, PG, 92 mins.


Moe: Chris Diamantopoulos / Larry: Sean Hayes / Curly: Will Sasso / Mother Superior Jane Lynch / Lydia Sofia Vergara / Sister Rosemary: Jennifer Hudson / Sister Mary Mengele: Larry David

Directed by Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly / Written by Mike Cerrone and the Farrellys

Hey, what’s the big idea?  Not a fan of the Stooges?  Wise guy, eh?  Why I oughta…

There are no on-the-fence Three Stooges fans out there.  You’re either a raging and loving aficionado of the affectionately slapstick nincompoops that made nearly 200 short films that date back to the 1930’s or you despise them with fist pumping disdain for being decidedly lowbrow clowns that cheapened the medium.  I’m not one of those elitist, high brown, and smugly intellectual film critics that will automatically throw myself into the latter camp; I have always been a fan of the Vaudeville comedy act since I was a child whose hallmark was broad farce and in-your-face (literally) slapstick.  Their legacy as comic icons is a testament to their enduring popularity.  Like ‘em or hate ‘em, there’s no denying that the Stooges are legends in their field. 

The Farrelly Brothers have always professed to being die hard Stooge fanatics, which would at least allow for them to seem like ideal candidates to make a Stooge film (they too, like the Moe, Larry, and Curly, have been accused of making lowbrow comedy that much…lower and accepted) and they certainly could have taken a simple route of making a biopic about their comedic idols.  Instead, the Farrellys opt to do something that – dare I say it – is much more audacious.  They have made a film that’s an affectionate love-letter to the Stooges’ original Columbia comedy shorts, right down to their tone and feel.  They painstakingly recreate these shorts, right down to exaggerated slapping, poking, kicking, punching, and wanton slapstick violence (hell, they even have the antiquated boing! and clang! sound effects for good measure).  In our current cynical movie climate, this seems like a risky proposition.  

Yet, the Farrellys somehow pull it off; they appropriate the rampant silliness, rapid fire puns, and crass pratfalls of the Stooge one-reelers of old while, at the same time, making them seem somehow fresh to new and young audiences.  That’s a very tricky and thankless job to pull off.  The Farrellys also are keen enough to understand that the best thing about the Stooges is that they are to be savored in smaller dosages, which is probably why they have structured their 92 minute film into three separate short film segments that are inevitably linked together (even though this Stooge film is set in modern times, the aura of the Stooges' Depression-era shenanigans is still refreshingly intact).  

In the first segment – arguably the film’s least funny or involving – introduces us to the hapless trio as abandoned babies that are left at a Catholic orphanage that is headed up by Sister Mary-Mengele (played by, yup, Larry David in full drag, rasping through his cranky dialogue with lovable relish).  The other nuns are played a nearly hilariously incongruent hodgepodge of actresses: Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson plays Sister Rosemary, comedic actress Jane Lynch plays Mother Superior, and…ahem…Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition cover model Kate Upton plays Sister Bernice.  See what I mean? 



Anyhoo’, the film gets past its initially wobbly first few scenes where the Stooges are not adopted and then flashes forward to the present where the bowl-haircutted ringleader Moe (Chris Diamantopoulos), the child-like Curly (Will Sasso) and the clown-looking Larry (Sean Hayes) find out that – gasp! – the orphanage will shut down if they cannot raise $831,000 required to keep it afloat.  The bumbling Stooges take it upon themselves to head into the city looking for work, willing to do anything to get the dough (one of them even wears a sign around his neck that states “will do anything for $831,000”).  The boys find themselves hired by the unscrupulous Lydia (Sofia Vergara) and her boyfriend (Craig Bierko) to murder her husband.  They criminals tell the dimwitted Stooges that they will receive exactly $831,000 for their time.  However, Moe, Larry, and Curly’s efforts are stymied at every turn, typically because there are morons, but things get complicated when they realize that their target is a former orphan. 

It’s hard to make slapstick work in films, let alone recreating past slapstick farces and making viewers fall in love with them.  The Farrellys completely nail the frenetic rhythms and the spontaneous and cartoonish brutality of the Stooges' antics.  Watching the film I initially was in awe of how the Farrellys faithfully and meticulously revived the classic routines from the shorts, which somewhat got in the way of me laughing uproariously at them at first (the lightning-fast impulsiveness of the Stooges is a tough thing to rebuild).  Yet, as the film progressed I began to feel like I was watching a brand new Columbia serial with the Stooges, so much so that I started to guffaw much as I did as a tyke with the past shorts.  The film eventually becomes a work of silly invention and adoring reverence. 

This would have never been achieved, though, without precise central casting, and the Farrellys' original choices were established and very well known performers (Jim Carrey, Benicio De Toro, and Sean Penn were once infamously involved), but choosing slightly lesser known stars is this film’s coup de grace.  The actors here may not look like the Stooges, per se, but they are made up to appear like them and, most importantly, they miraculously transform into the personas created by Moe and Jerry Howard and Larry Fine to the point where it goes beyond mere mimicry.   These actors don’t slavishly imitate the Stooges; they inhabit their aura.  

Will Sasso and Sean Hayes are perhaps the best known of the trio called upon for their daunting assignments, and Sasso certainly captures the immature oafishness and woo-woo-woo hysteria of Curly.  Hayes has the tougher job of challenging the more difficult vocal inflections of the meek and meager sounding Larry, and he evokes it flawlessly.  Chris Diamantopoulos is the film’s real break-out casting choice as Moe, and even though he is (if you look at the star’s head shot pictures) is much more handsome than Moe Howard ever was, he gets his infamous grimace, his snarling ferocity, his masochistic robustness, and his penchant to inflict pain on his pals whenever he feels compelled to.  The three actors together achieve the impossible of making it feel like your watching the resurrected Stooges again.  Famous celebrities/Oscar winners in the roles might have been distracting. 

To be fair, THE THREE STOOGES is not foolproof.  There are times when the title characters' antics devolve into bodily function humor that would never, ever have been a part of their classic material (a scene involving a hospital maternity ward and babies being used as urinal water pistols comes to mind) not to mention that a subplot involving Moe being cast on Jersey Shore (what!?) seems ill-advised right from the start.  Yet, the Farrellys do generate some great gags that do the legacy of the Stooges proud, like a gut-busting reveal of their ‘salmon farm’ or Curly smothering his prey in pealed onions after Moe instructs him to “smother" and kill him.  Then there is the way Moe hysterically comes up with impromptu nicknames for random people he comes in contact with, or even small throwaway jokes that linger on the screen for seconds, but get big innocuous laughs (two law firms are called ‘Kickham, Harter & Indagroyne' and 'Ditcher, Quick & Hyde').  These small aspects – combined with their face smashing clowning around - are what cumulatively made the Stooges an infectious riot.

The job of the film critic is to relay to readers what the film is about and how well it achieved its intended goals.  The Farrellys have aimed at structuring their big screen Stooge film homage as a scrupulous recreation of the Stooge shorts from 80-plus years ago, to which they have succeeded.  I’m not sure that there’s an audience for this film for non-Stooge-aholics, but for true completists – myself included – they is much merry lunacy to be had here, and the Farrellys should be admired for taking a very difficult approach, one that most other filmmakers would have avoided.  Did I uncontrollably laugh all the way through THE THREE STOOGES?  No.  But did I admire and was I amused by what I saw? Soitenly!

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