Three Stooges is a very stupid film. Then again, if you bought a ticket expecting anything different, then really, the only idiot is you. Directed by Bobby & Peter Farrelly — the brotherly duo behind Dumb & Dumber, There’s Something About Mary and more recently Hall Pass — this twenty-first century re-imagining captures with impressive authenticity the style and tone of the classic vaudevillian trio, whose antics influenced generations of comic filmmakers, including the Farrellys themselves. Admittedly, one suspects the staying power of these new Stooges will be somewhat less significant than the originals. Still, in a media saturated culture where stupidity is currency, The Three Stooges arrives with a simplicity and an innocence that could almost be described as sweet.
Split into three 30-minute chapters that recall the Stooges short films of the 30s and 40s, the film begins when three infant boys are dumped at the door of the Sisters of Mercy Orphanage. There, they are raised by a group of unlikely nuns: actress Jane Lynch (TVs Glee), singer Jennifer Hudson, swimsuit model Kate Upton and…uh…actor Larry David (TVs Curb Your Enthusiasm). Kind hearted but stupid and clumsy, the trio prove an unpopular option for prospective parents, and thirty-five years later find themselves still unadopted and, to make matters worse, such a financial burden on the orphanage that the Monsignor is threatening to close it down unless they can come up with fat lot of cash, and fast. Hey, it worked in The Blues Brothers, right?
Immediately, what strikes one about The Three Stooges is how closely stars Sean Hayes, Will Sasso and Chris Diamantopoulos mimic the look, sound and comedic mannerisms of Larry, Curly and Moe, roles that, somewhat unbelievably, were originally intended for Sean Penn, Jim Carey and Benecio Del Toro. While that version of the movie might have been a more memorable affair, there’s no denying that these three make for a trio of excellent Stooges. The gags fly thick and fast – eyes are poked, cheeks are slapped and skulls are bonked, and it’s all done with a sense of pace and escalation every bit as impressive as it was back in nineteen thirty four. There are plenty of verbal jokes as well; after 18 years writing and directing comedy films, the Farrellys certainly know their way around a pun.
It’s possible I’m giving the movie more credit than it’s due. Does a crossover with The Jersey Shore make The Three Stooges a biting commentary on how in a world obsessed with celebutantes and reality TV, idiocy has become a valued commodity? No, probably not. Still, it’s interesting to think about, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy watching J-Woww, Snooki and The Situation get hit repeatedly in the face (though it would have been funnier if they hadn’t been in on the joke). In spite of their comically exaggerated screams of pain, the elaborately choreographed violence is very low impact, softened by goofy sound effects and the sheer absurdity of the gags. It’s slapstick but never sadistic, and compared to the drunken, debauched antics of their reality television co-stars, the Stooges’ brand of classical haplessness is actually kind of endearing.
And that’s what shines through. Despite their stupidity and propensity for violence, Moe, Larry and Curly are good people, with only the best of intentions. The same might be said of Bobby and Peter. The Stooges want to save the orphanage; the Farrellys want to make people laugh. In both cases, their good intentions should ultimately win you over.