THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"THE THREE STOOGES"
I can't imagine why anyone would want to see The Three Stooges. Admittedly, I never cared for the original Stooges (not my brand of humor - at all), but it seems that their enduring popularity owes almost everything to the men who played them. The Stooges weren't just characters; they were entire personas, inseparable from the comedians themselves. Seeing a movie in which three other actors play the Stooges is akin to watching an Elvis impersonator. Sure, it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, but it most certainly is not a duck. One of the big reasons I couldn't get into the Farrelly brothers' new Three Stooges movie is that it felt like one big, long impersonation; Moe, Larry, and Curly never felt like genuine entities.
The film is divided into three “shorts,” each running about 30 minutes in length. Together, they tell the story of the Stooges, who grew up in an orphanage and were often terrorized by the nasty Sister Mary-Mengele, played by Larry David. (That's right: Larry David as a nun.) Still there as adults, Moe (Chris Diamantopoulos), Larry (Sean Hayes), and Curly (Will Sasso) learn that the orphanage is deeply in debt and may have to close its doors. Determined to prevent that from happening, they head out into the real world to earn the $850,000 needed to save the place. Along the way, they get embroiled in a murder plot being hatched by a gold-digging shrew named Lydia (Sofia Vergara). She wants the Stooges to murder her husband so she can take off with her boyfriend. Of course, nothing goes according to plan although, in one particularly forced bit, Moe does end up as the star of a reality TV series.
The Farrellys have said that they made The Three Stooges because kids today don't know about the late comedians. While I respect their sincere desire to pay tribute to them, my suspicion is that kids don't know the Stooges because that sort of comedy isn't particularly relevant anymore. The slapstick humor is faithfully reproduced here, but the seams show now. It's impossible to not see the gags coming before they arrive. A sledgehammer is visible in the frame, and you know someone's getting knocked in the head with it. Somebody stands near a swimming pool, and you know they're going in the water. A giant cake is wheeled out, and you know it's going to get demolished. The Stooge humor was so specific that there's no way to replicate it now without the audience anticipating every single beat. (No pun intended.) The face slaps and head knocks just grow wearying. An over-reliance on potty humor only makes everything even more cringe-inducing. One of the big set pieces involves babies peeing in the Stooges' faces, and another scene ends with a rather foul fart joke.
In fairness, the actors capture the essence of the real Stooges, with Chris Diamantopoulos the standout. Hayes and Sasso certainly work hard to pull off the mimicry, but Diamantopoulos is the only one who does it effortlessly. Other cast members are wasted, including Jennifer Hudson as another nun (she's given absolutely nothing to do), and Jane Lynch as the Mother Superior (she's not allowed to be funny). Larry David manages to bring some novelty to the picture, but it's a one-joke bit, at best.
One thing I will say in the movie's favor: it's more genial than the original Stooges' films were. Their work always seemed a little mean-spirited to me. The Farrellys have softened that somewhat, so that even when Moe is taking a chainsaw to Curly's head, it comes off almost innocently.
This brings us back to where we started. If you like the Three Stooges, why do you need this movie? It's 90 minutes of people imitating them and recreating their schtick. It feels labored. Yes, a lot of work clearly went into capturing the look and the antics of the Stooges, but the murder plot is lame, and the picture as a whole gets bogged down in its efforts to be a faithful homage. If you hate the Stooges, it won't change your opinion. If you love them, you'll be happier watching the old black-and-white pictures for the thousandth time.
( 1/2 out of four)
The Three Stooges is rated PG for slapstick action violence, some rude and suggestive humor including language. The running time is 1 hour and 32 minutes.
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