The road to the theatrical release of the Farrelly Brothers’ The Three Stooges is about as tortured as Larry’s hair. Since 1997, the filmmaking Farrellys went through more studios, and more potential Stooge actors, than you could shake a stick at. (Why anyone would want to shake a stick at a Stooge, knowing full well the physical mayhem that that might incur, is beyond me. Nyaah-aah-aah-aah-aah.) While such names as James Marsden, Johnny Knoxville and Hank Azaria were discussed, it was the casting of Sean Penn, Jim Carrey and Benicio Del Toro that was thought to be set in stone.
In 1976, Mel Brooks almost took on the project. In 2000, Michael Chiklis portrayed Curly in a TV movie with another Mel (last name of Gibson) as one of the executive producers. Speaking of which, supposedly the Farrellys considered casting Gibson. And Russell Crowe. Wow. Visualizing a misplaced eye boink between those two poster boys for anger mismanagement instills more fright than laughs.
Star power and a twenty-five year history aside … wait, hold on there, fella. Can we even come close to putting star power and a 1934-1959 history aside? Particularly when worldwide Stooge-a-philes fell over themselves picturing Carrey, Penn and Del Toro nyuk-nyuk-nyuking themselves into a fine frazzle? If nothing else, we have to applaud Sean Hayes (Larry), Will Sasso (Curly) and Chris Diamantopoulos (Moe) for their Stooge-pendous moxie.
While these three actors soitenly do an admirable job, they’re far from brilliant. Sasso is the stand-out, giving us a perfect rendition of the finger-popping, hand-clapping, frenetic dance-moves guy, while also allowing the occasional peek into his big, sensitive heart. Hayes seems a bit off-rhythm, verging on depressed. His morose tone may bring a welcome relief from all the hyperactive physical comedy, but it doesn’t quite fit into this particular picture. As for Diamantopoulos, unfortunately he’s such a spitting image of Jim Carrey, it’s distracting. (Yes, even though Carrey had been set to play Curly rather than Moe.) To his credit, Diamantopoulos’ rendition is somewhat sweeter than the original, bullying Moe Howard … but it’s not as authoritative.
Divided into three acts with cartoon graphics announcing each “episode,” mimicking the original shorts, the plot is unfortunately as bare as Curly’s scalp. However, the troika makes a great entrance: A burlap bag flies out from a speeding car, landing on the doorstep of the Sisters of Mercy Orphanage. Infant fingers reach up through an opening, eye-poking a nun squarely into next week. And when the bag falls away, we see a mischievous trio of babies sporting those iconic hairstyles that we all know and love. It’s magic.
But that magic doesn’t last for long. We quickly arrive at the boys’ terrible tens (the young actors doing a terrific job, including Robert Capron from the Wimpy series), before zooming straight on through to adulthood. Soon, the brothers learn that all will be lost unless they can raise $830,000 to keep their orphanage home from ruin. Unleashed on the big wide world for the first time, the Stooges experience a series of silly adventures, such as their literal farming of salmon, or a botched mercy-killing of the husband of a rich, beautiful woman (Sofía Vergara’s Lydia), or Heimliching a dolphin. Left to his own devices, Moe ends up as the latest cast member of The Jersey Shore. Snooki & Co. are already over-the-top; with the addition of nostril hair-pulling, we cross over the line to the land of the unnecessarily rude.
Jane Lynch is wasted as the earnest Mother Superior; ditto Jennifer Hudson as the singing nun. (Speaking of singing, the Farrellys try to mine the humor with the addition of two musical numbers – but these interludes appear to be a desperate afterthought, and come up, um, flat.) Rounding out this group of nun-the-less, Larry David as Sister Mary Mengele brays all his lines in a similar, wearying manner.
As for the physical humor, while well choreographed, it turns tedious with lengthy sequences of slaps, pokes, hair pulls, etc. An example of the belabored occurs in a nursery (pun intended) in which infant boys, little squirts as it were, are used as makeshift “pee”-shooters. It’s funny for a moment – but this scene yawns on so long, you almost expect the infants to start walking and talking.
It’s not that The Three Stooges misses completely. The film still offers up quite a few laughs, causing some audience members to howl throughout. But consisting of a feeble plot, over-tortured comic antics and clownish characters, the movie provides its own answer as to why the Stooges’ earlier projects were confined to two-reelers and shorts. Sometimes Moe is less.
Rating on a scale of 5 gluttons for pun-ishment: 2.5
Release date: April 13, 2012
Directed by: Peter Farrelly & Bobby Farrelly
Written by: Mike Cerrone & Bobby Farrelly & Peter Farrelly
Cast: Sean Hayes, Will Sasso, Chris Diamantopoulos, Jane Lynch, Sofía Vergara, Jennifer Hudson, Craig Bierko, Larry David
Running Time: 92 minutes