My expectations for "The Three Stooges", the new film from Bobby and Peter Farrelly, were pretty low. After sitting through their last few films ("Hall Pass", "The Ringer", "Stuck On You") and wondering if they were going to ever produce another truly funny comedy, I expected "Stooges" to be more of the same, not only unfunny but tedious, especially given the fact that Jim Carrey and Sean Penn were both slated to play stooges and eventually dropped out. Stars don't usually drop out of a film they think will be good.
I was very pleasantly surprised.
My hat is off to the Farrelly brothers. They have created a very funny, very uneven, completely authentic tribute to the original Stooges. The film is hilarious at times, overdone and hard to watch at others, much like watching one of the original shorts.
The film contains one story, following the course of Moe, Larry and Curly's lives from young orphans until they are roughly thirty-five. But the film is broken up into three shorts, perfectly mimicking the tone, feel and style of the original Stooges' early films, right down to the title cards at the beginning of each segment.
The first segment tells the story of the three boys as young orphans at the Sisters of Mercy Orphanage. The sisters who run the home are played by Jane Lynch, Jennifer Hudson and Larry David. David is the funniest; it is just a funny idea and he is also the butt of most of the antics the boys get into. Jennifer Hudson is truly awful; she just doesn't even seem to realize she is in a comedy. Playing it basically straight, she is also, apparently, trying to play the role as realistically as possible. Honestly, you would have expected someone, anyone, to give her a little nudge in the right direction. Jane Lynch plays the head nun and she is basically playing it straight as well. But she at least isn't playing it realistic. She is a little hammy, a little over-the-top, a little out there. She 'gets it' and hits the right tone.
When the film concentrates on the orphanage and some of the kids at the home actually speak, the film shifts balance uncomfortably and almost becomes unwatchable. Scenes showing a sick girl, Murph, help to get the narrative going, but they are too treacle and sweet and almost completely at odds with the rest of the story.
When the film concentrates on Moe, Larry and Curly, it gets just about everything right. In the beginning of this film, we watch as Moe, Larry and Curly, at about age 10, try to get adopted. The three kids who play the Stooges are all really good and clearly practiced a lot to get the routines down. Flash forward 25 years and we rejoin the Stooges, who are still living at the Orphanage, with the same nuns (who haven't aged. A nice joke). But now the Stooges are played by adults. Chris Diamantopoulos (lots of TV work including extended runs on "24", "Up All Night" and "The Starter Wife") plays Moe, Sean Hayes (TV's "Will & Grace" and a producer of "Hot in Cleveland" and "Grimm") plays Larry and Will Sasso (TV's "MadTV" and "Sh*t My Dad Says") plays Curly. First of all, each of the actors does a remarkable job of becoming Moe Howard, Larry Howard and Curly Fine, the original Stooges. I wouldn't call their performances impressions or even tributes. They simply seem to become the original trio. Maybe they should be called replicas. And I use that word as a tribute.
But just looking like the original Stooges is only part of the problem. They have to act like the originals. And these actors do, to a great, remarkable, highly respectable degree. I honestly can not even imagine the amount of rehearsal that went into each of the routines, to allow the actors to get the moves down to a science, so they can move as fast as possible, as fast as the originals. And they perform the routines perfectly creating a lot of laughter and admiration.
The Farrelly Brothers have smartly worked in situations reminiscent of the Stooges best work. The first short features an extended sequence where the boys play repairmen, trying to fix the bell tower at the orphanage. The second film features an extended chase through a hospital complete with an overtly masculine, stern nurse and some cross-dressing. The third short features a high society party and the requisite hi-jinks.
"Stooges" falters more when the Farrelly Brothers try to work in more modern references and ideas. An extended sequence featuring Moe infiltrating the cast of "Jersey Shore" is like a skit on "Saturday Night Live"; it's a funny idea initially, but it goes on way too long. Watching Snookie, and all the rest of the group from Jersey, get their eyes poked and their heads slapped by Moe plays to our desires, but it doesn't blend in well-enough.
Sofia Vergara, Stephen Collins, Brian Doyle Murray and Craig Bierko round out the supporting cast. They are all acceptable, if unremarkable. But in a way, this is also in keeping with the original shorts; if it didn't involve Moe, Larry and or Curly, not enough time or attention was spent to make it interesting or memorable.
"The Three Stooges" is a very funny, very uneven homage to the classic comedy team. And it represents a welcome return to form for the Farrelly Brothers.