Unlikely Overachievement – A Review of The Three Stooges
TITLE: The Three Stooges
STARRING: Sean Hayes, Will Sasso, Chris Diamantopoulos, Jane Lynch, Sophia Vergara
DIRECTORS: The Farrelly Brothers
STUDIOS: 20th Century Fox, C3 Entertainment, Conundrum Entertainment
RUN TIME: 92 min
RELEASED: April 13, 2012
By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder
Well how about that? After all the speculation, the skepticism, the eye rolls, the apprehension, and one awful skit on WWE Raw, the Farrelly brothers’ adaptation of The Three Stooges really wasn’t so bad. It’s got a few glaring problems, but it’s not nearly as bad as you might think.
Based on the two-reel short films from the ’30s and ’40s starring Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Jerome “Curly” Howard, the film casts the Stooges as 35-year-old orphans trying to raise money to save their orphanage from closing. Along the way they become wrapped up in a conniving wife’s plot to murder her husband. Our unlikely heroes even find a rift driven between them when Larry and Curly finally stand up to Moe. With the future of innocent children in their hands, the Stooges must reunite and find a way to save the day.
No matter what people want to say about this film, it manages to do something I absolutely never thought it could: It recreates some (not all, but some) of that classic Stooge magic. During the first and second acts, I was actually proud of the Farrelly brothers and their three leads, because they were actually doing it! They were pulling off a funny, well executed Three Stooges movie! Then they went and jumped the damn shark at the beginning of the third act. But for awhile, they were doing wonderfully because they got three crucial elements right. Let’s dive into those, shall we?
1. They cast three performers who got the cadences and mannerisms of the boys down to near perfection. To their credit, the Farrellys seem to have understood that the standard for playing Moe, Larry or Curly has to be perfect imitation. Some of the source material has been out for the better part of a century now. It’s part of the fabric of American comedy. That doesn’t leave much room for artistic interpretation when it comes to these characters. But Hayes, Sasso and Diamantopoulos (whose name I’m copying & pasting because I simply cannot spell it) do as well as we could have hoped for. Diamantopoulos’ Moe was perfect. Hayes’ Larry had a few un-Larryish moments, but the vast majority of his work was spot on. Sasso’s Curly is the one that takes the most getting used to, which is to be expected given Curly is the most iconic of the three. If you want to be a picky douche about things, his high pitched Curly voice does sound a bit forced, and his “woo woo woo” isn’t quite as fast as I’d have hoped. But those kind of comparisons really aren’t fair. Jerome Howard was simply one of a kind. Expecting anyone to perfectly fill his shoes is ridiculous. Sasso does a commendable job.
2. They understand how to pace the humor in a Stooges movie. The rhythm of Stooge comedies was always different than those of, say, Abbot and Costello or Laurel and Hardy. Other comedians would pace their material so that they would repeatedly build to a big laugh. The Stooges managed to buck that system by getting you with multiple laughs of various sizes in a given scenario. They wouldn’t just tell jokes or make puns, they’d do physical comedy, they’d make weird faces, they’d make strange noises. They could make you laugh in so many times, all within the span of a few minutes, even though the laughs aren’t always as big as the ones you’d get in more traditional comedies. The Farrellys understood that, and that’s how they pace their movie.
3. When they stayed faithful to the tone and style of the source material, they were on a roll. In the first act, there’s a scene where the Stooges are trying to fix a big bell on the roof of the orphanage. We’ve seen this set up a bunch of times in the old shorts. The Stooges try and fix something, and their trademark dimwittedness causes it all to go wrong. But this scene puts a classic Stooge spin on a new scenario, resulting in new laughs, even though it’s roughly the same formula as always. The strongest scenes in the film are like this.
Things start to go wrong in the third act, when the movie starts to shift from the Stooge formula to the Judd Apatow formula. Moe splits off from Larry and Curly, and oddly enough becomes a cast member on Jersey Shore. From there we dive into the love that these three characters share and how much they need each other and work best as a team. It doesn’t get extremely sappy and sentimental, but it still feels like an abrupt change of gears. This idea was never addressed in the original material, but I always felt as if it was subtlety implied. Even in the surreal world of the Stooges, three guys wouldn’t constantly hang around one another like that, constantly beating each other up if they didn’t love each other on some level, right? The whole thing feels awkward, and a distraction from what the Stooges do best. At the end we also get a bit too much resolution to a plot thread involving a couple of the young orphans.It all puts a damper on what otherwise would have been a very good movie.
Plus, I’m pretty sure no one wanted to see the Jersey Shore cast in this movie. No one.
Because the film is so successful in duplicating the classic Stooge style, it gets away with a bit of deviation from it. For instance, there’s a scene where the boys are in a hospital, and they’ve got live babies in their hands as they spray each other with infant urine. The boys never did much with body fluids, which likely had to do with the era they were performing in. At one point, they also attempt to murder someone in their own special way, which is pretty dark for them. But as a long time Stooge fan, I forgave these scenes off the path because the scenes that surrounded them were done so well. But when we got into the third act, and things weren’t done so traditionally, I was less inclined to forgive. For instance, there are a couple of fart jokes that fall flat.
Diamantopoulos, Hayes and Sasso have an excellent supporting cast around them, the most memorable being Larry David as Sister Mary-Mengele, a cartoony old crone who acts as a mostly harmless foil for the Stooges. Jane Lynch plays it straight as Mother Superior, while Sophia Vergara plays a sassy (and always chesty) villainess. Jennifer Hudson also has a few lines as one of the nuns, and Stephen Collins does well as a lawyer.
Ultimately, The Three Stooges didn’t turn out to be the best movie it could have been, but I think it turned out better than a lot of moviegoers were expecting. Despite the third act, I’m still proud of the Farrellys and what they accomplished with this movie. For about 55 minutes, it’s a movie befitting the godfathers of slapstick comedy. Nyuk nyuk nuyk!
Front page image from collider.com. Image 1 from ontheredcarpet.com. Image 2 from screencrave.com. Image 3 from theepoctimes.com.