Once slapstick, now just stupid
By Sean O'Connell
Friday, Apr. 13, 2012
"The Three Stooges" isn't presented in 3-D. Moe, Larry and Curly can't reach through the screen to poke your eyes, box your ears, pull your nose hairs or sock you in the stomach.
That doesn't mean you are completely safe.
The imbecilic "Stooges" still manages to pummel you into submission with 92 minutes of relentless stupidity. Even by Stooges standards, it's overly juvenile and totally dumb. What I didn't expect was for it to be so dated and out of touch with what modern audiences find funny. "You haven't changed a bit," one character tells the Three Stooges. Maybe they should have, though. Just a little.
The original Stooges, of course, were a vaudeville act whose physical shtick was characterized by aggressive but finely choreographed kicks, punches, snaps and falls. The Stooges put the "slap" in slapstick, the "rough" in rough and tumble . . . and for the time period (primarily in the 1930s and '40s), it was high comedy.
With the Farrelly brothers' (Bobby and Peter) "Stooges," the routine hits a new low. The worst criticism I can level at this reboot is that it's unnecessary. There isn't a single idea in the film that justifies the Farrellys dragging these classic characters out of the mothballs, no valid reason to put three willing actors through the torturous rigors of a lackluster Stooges story.
Once, years ago, the Farrellys had a reason. They'd been developing a Stooges script, and they allegedly had Jim Carrey, Sean Penn and Benicio Del Toro loosely attached to the roles of Curly, Larry and Moe, respectively. Tell me that doesn't sound enticing. And yet, I'm not even sure that trio of award winners could have brought enough firepower to ignite the dim gags served up in this lackadaisical "Stooges."
The story starts with the baby Stooges being abandoned on the steps of an orphanage, where Mother Superior (Jane Lynch), Sister Rosemary (Jennifer Hudson) and Sister Mary-Mengele ("Curb Your Enthusiasm" curmudgeon Larry David) struggle to raise the terrible toddlers.
Thankfully, the Farrellys and regular screenwriting collaborator Mike Cerrone ("Me, Myself and Irene") fast-forward through 25 years of antics to get to a point where older Moe (Chris Diamantopoulos), Larry (Sean Hayes) and Curly (Will Sasso) must venture off into the real world. They're tasked with raising $830,000 in 30 days, or their precious orphanage faces foreclosure. They are men - er, grown children - on a mission.
And then . . . well, not much happens, really. The trio is hired by a sultry vixen who'd like the bumbling idiots to bump off her husband (Kirby Heyborne) so she finally can be with her lover (Craig Bierko).
And this is supposed to be a PG-rated kids' movie?
The temptress, by the way, is played by flavor-of-the-month Sofia Vergara, who proves with each new movie role that her pitch-perfect "Modern Family" character is the only gimmick in her bag of tricks.
Later, Moe is cast on a reality show - a premise that has real potential to skewer this empty excuse for modern entertainment. But the Farrellys can offer only "Jersey Shore" jabs that were outdated when the brothers wrote them and smell even mustier now.
The Farrellys have made funny movies mining smart humor from notoriously idiotic protagonists in the subversive "Kingpin" and the proud-to-be-moronic "Dumb and Dumber." But the brothers have been stuck in a rut lately, and "Stooges" isn't going to help pull them out.
Not that the Farrellys aren't faithful. They are. They mimic the Stooges' crude, comedic designs with painstaking devotion. Sound effects are lifted from the source material. The recognizable Stooges' theme song opens the film, which is broken down into three digestible episodes. The brothers wisely borrow from such classics as the hospital-based "Calling All Curs" from 1939. And the three actors do credible Stooges impersonations. There's even an offbeat melancholia to Hayes's Larry that made him sympathetic and, by extension, interesting.
The Farrellys, in effect, have created a cover band. They play all the hits (pun intended), although it's not the same, and the difference is bothersome. So why bother with this earnest but imperfect impersonation when the original artists are readily available on VHS and DVD?
Contains slapstick action violence, some rude and suggestive humor including language.