Whatever faults Three Stooges might have (the silly story and general absurdity of it all), the acting and overall approach to recreating the classic material aren’t to blame.
In their homage to the classic Three Stooges comedic trio, directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly (Dumb and Dumber) transport bumbling oafs Larry, Curly and their leader Moe into modern times as three strange-looking babes abandoned on the doorstep of an orphanage. For an emotional core, we’re treated to a setup in which a young Moe is nearly adopted by a caring couple – only to be traded for another boy when he insists that his Stooge brothers also be brought along for the good life.
From there the story breaks into three interlocking vignettes presented as individual Three Stooges episodes, in which Moe, Larry and Curly – now grown – embark on a mission to save the bankrupt orphanage by “raising the dough” themselves – a sum upwards of around 800K. Of course, Three Stooges out to do anything for money can only land themselves in trouble, and Moe, Larry, and Curly sure enough land themselves in the murder schemes of a black widow wife (Sofia Vergara) and her snake of a lover (Craig Bierko). But even as the Stooges try to get the dirty work done, they end up doing more damage than anything else – to themselves, to the schemers, anyone in the immediate vicinity, and even to the face of reality television.
What is there to say about The Three Stooges? It’s one of those films that is either going to resonate strongly or not at all, depending on the viewer. The Farrellys certainly hold up their end of the bargain: they lovingly and accurately recreate the comedic stylings of the classic Three Stooges sketches, from the situational premises to the sound effects to the physical comedy. Lead actors Chris Diamantopoulos (Moe), Sean Hayes (Larry) and Will Sasso (Curly) rise to the task equally well, nailing down most of the timing and mannerisms of original Stooges Moe Howard, Curly Howard and Larry Fine.
Diamantopoulos is the best of the trio, managing to actually own the role of Moe as his own, rather than the (albeit skilled) impersonation work of Sasso and Hayes. Still, the trio are certainly worthy of the characters they are paying homage to – they are also, ironically enough, easier to believe than some of the more famous actors once attached to the roles would’ve been (Sean Penn, Benecio Del Toro and Jim Carrey). So, whatever faults Three Stooges might have (the silly story and general absurdity of it all), the acting and overall approach to recreating the classic material aren’t to blame.
The question comes back to tastes. The Stooges were fitting comedy for their day, and even managed to be popular with children for many decades thereafter (myself included). Of course, we now live in very different times, in which edgier material tends to be what passes for comedy; even animated films aren’t above their fair share of adult humor. I have no doubt that The Three Stooges will be funny for young kids (there’s even a ‘don’t try this at home’ warning for them in the end credits) – but older viewers hoping that this film will rekindle that warm feeling they remember from watching the original sketches are not likely to find what they are seeking here. Then again, those with more conservative comedic tastes, who often find themselves turned off by the dirty comedy of our day, might warmly welcome some good-old, (semi-)clean, slapstick funny business. It all depends on the type of viewer you are.
Celebrity cameos in the film are a mixed bag. The nuns at the orphanage include Glee star Jane Lynch, singer Jennifer Hudson, model/actress Kate Upton (seen above, in detail) and Curb Your Enthusiasm star Larry David as the acerbic Sister Mary-Mengele. We also run into Old Spice hunk Isaiah Mustafa, Modern Family star Vergara, and character actors Stephen Collins (No Ordinary Family) and Bierko. These appearances are welcome, and each person gets a chance to poke a little fun at their own personas (with the exception of Collins and Beirko, who once again play the sinister guys).
Later in the film, when the cast of Jersey Shore gets incorporated into the story… well, that’s the kind of heavy-handed, awkward misstep that has separated the Farrelly’s recent works (Hall Pass, The Heartbreak Kid) from their classics (Dumb & Dumber, There’s Something About Mary). As a rule of thumb: you don’t honor something by way of Jersey Shore. YES, the film includes the reality stars as a sly joke about the kinds of people who become pop-culture fixations these days (“Stooges,” get it?) – but it is the kind of distracting element that can (and does) pull a viewer right out of a film.
To the credit of the cast and directors, The Three Stooges is not all terrible. In final breakdown, the three vignettes get weaker as the film goes (and at times drags) on. The first segment at the orphanage comes closest to capturing that “classic Stooges” magic; the second one, set in the real world, is less effective but still has some good sequences (the hospital); but by the time the third act hits, and the trio have their inevitable falling-out, reconciliation, and Jersey Shore experience? That’s about where this film falls short of its honorable intentions.
So what does a good 1.5 out of 3 acts equate to in terms of a 5-star rating for a movie? See below.
The Three Stooges is now playing in theaters everywhere. It is Rated PG for slapstick action violence, some rude and suggestive humor including language.