Contemporary 'Three Stooges' misses more often than it hits
When I was a kid, the Three Stooges were taboo; my mother
banned them from our house because their brand of eye-poking, head-slapping,
stomach-punching horseplay was exactly the sort of roughhousing she dreaded seeing in the living room or the backyard. She also deep-sixed The Monkees as
well, perhaps because she didn’t want her children to fall under the spell of
Don Kirshner and start a boy-band.
Happily for people like my mom (who, aside from her irrational hatred of The Monkees and the Stooges, has flawless taste), the Farrelly Brothers’
big-screen version of “The Three Stooges” concludes with a finger-wagging “don’t try this at
home”-style warning that shows how the hard-hitting slapstick was carefully
choreographed by professionals.
More good news, Mom: There’s not a single note of Monkees music
in the entire movie.
The contemporary Stooges — Sean Hayes, Will Sasso and Chris
Diamantopoulos — accurately and energetically reproduce most of the trademark
bits of their predecessors, including Curly’s growl, Larry’s nasal whine and
Moe’s penchant for punching. Stooges connoisseurs will note many of the trio’s
signature gags have been recycled here; some of them are still good for a few
giggles, while others fall flat. The Farrellys also throw in some in-jokes,
such as a sign that tells us the Stooges’ childhood home, the Sisters of Mercy
Orphanage, was founded in 1934, coincidentally, the same year the original
Stooges released their first short-subject.
But what’s the point? Anyone with a decent Internet
connection can watch many of the classic Stooges comedies from the 1930s and
1940s on YouTube and, unsurprisingly, they’re much funnier and less studied than the Farrellys’
well-intentioned but misguided update.
The history of this project is considerably more interesting
than the final product. Various plans for Stooges movies have sprung up and
fallen apart in the past decade, with stars such as Jim Carrey, Russell Crowe,
Sean Penn, Paul Giamatti, Ewan McGregor, Woody Harrelson and Johnny Knoxville
being courted for roles. Somewhere
along the line, what was once supposed to be a high-profile film turned into a
cheap-looking flick with a cast that could charitably be called second-rate,
and while Hayes, Sasso and Diamantopoulos cheerfully go to painful extremes for
a few cheap laughs, the borderline-bizarre screenplay offers them little in the
way of support.
A mix of typical Stooges shenanigans (including mistaken
identities, gleeful destruction, goofy chases and pratfalls a-plenty) and a
groan-worthy, sticky-sweet “save the sick kids” subplot, the story is broken
into three installments that are intended to reflect the two-reelers that made
the Stooges famous. The novelty value of a modern-day “Stooges” wears thin
fairly quickly, however, as the Farrellys skip from antics at the orphanage
(overseen by a baffled-looking Jennifer Hudson and Jane Lynch, in a colorless
Mother Superior role that Cher wisely turned down) to a botched
murder-for-murder scheme involving a trampy wife (an unfunny Sofia Vergara) and
her dopey paramour (wanly played by Craig Bierko).
As a capper, the Farrellys
dive straight to the bottom of the barrel, sticking the Stooges with, of all
people, the cast of “Jersey Shore.” Not only does this mind-boggling, witless episode
conclusively prove that Snooki, The Situation, J-Woww and company have no comic
timing whatsoever, it also demonstrates they can’t even play themselves convincingly.
The movie ends with the cast grooving to a cover version of
The Spinners’ “It’s a Shame,” an appropriate choice for a film that’s
squandered 90 minutes of the audience’s time and an amazing amount of its
performers’ energy. I’ll debate her on the merits of the original Stooges
films, but when it comes to the Farrellys’ “Stooges,” I have to concede that
mother knows best.