The Farrelly Brothers’ THE THREE STOOGES is better than its marketing campaign let on, and while that would be more impressive if the trailer and ad materials hadn’t been almost unwatchably bad, it still makes for a welcome relief.
The quick-cut nature of movie commercials and trailers these days couldn’t properly convey the loving quality of the filmmakers’ recreation of the Stooges’ style. Although The Three Stooges is, by definition, a stupid movie–and this isn’t going to be one of those places where hymns to the artistry of the original material will be sung–it’s been made in some very smart ways. Despite the present-day setting, the Farrellys have wisely not tampered with the vaudeville tone and pace of the act. Back in the day, the group’s movies were mostly shot with cameras that simply stood in place and recorded the action, and for the most part, that’s the way the Farrellys do it too. (Actually, it’s a style that suits them well, compared to the dreadful editing and camera choices they’ve made in recent movies like Hall Pass.) This preserves the slapstick intricacy of the routines.
In addition, the Farrellys and their co-writer Mike Cerrone have kept the jokes at human scale. (Over the years, some very big stars have been rumored to play the leads, and this may have been one of those times when a lower-caliber cast and smaller budget worked to a film’s benefit.) There aren’t any distracting CG effects, big crowds, or elaborate chase sequences–just 3 idiots inflicting harmless damage on each other and those unlucky enough to get in the way.
The story, which is divided into 3 “shorts” that imitate the form most often used by the Stooges, is naturally silly and no more complicated than it needs to be. The movie uses the line-up of Moe (Chris Diamantopolous), Curly (Will Sasso) and Larry (Sean Hayes, almost unrecognizable from his Will & Grace days)–no Shemp–and makes them orphans raised by nuns who include Jane Lynch, Jennifer Hudson, Kate Upton (not in the movie because of her acting chops) and, in an inspired piece of casting, Larry David as Sister Mary-Mengele. Like a million orphanages in a million old movies, this one is going to be shut down unless money can be raised, and our heroes go to the big city to find the cash. In the course of their journey, they become embroiled in a murder plot cooked up by lovers Sofia Vergera and Craig Bierko, and re-encounter some old acquaintances. Eventually–don’t ask–the cast of Jersey Shore becomes involved, and as a genuine plot point, not just in the quick sight gag featured in the trailer.
All of this, of course, is just an excuse for the Stooges to have mishaps and attack one another with ladders, hammers, mallets, diapers, shellfish and many open hands. Diamantopolous, Sasso and Hayes perform them very well, and resist the temptation to put any kind of personal stamp on their characters–these Stooges exist as replicas of the originals and nothing more. The supporting players, apart from David, fare less well (you’d never believe Vergera could be a TV comedy star based on how she comes off here), but that’s also not out of keeping with the originals.
The Three Stooges gets a fair number of laughs, but the essence of the Stooges’ work involves a lot of repetition, and at feature length, The Three Stooges goes on too long–there’s a reason why the trio made shorts for most of their careers. There’s also, in the end, only so much enjoyment that can be gleaned from a recreation of straightforward works that are still readily accessible in the original. But the Farrellys have made the movie they wanted to, and done a fairly good job of it. It’s undemanding fun for nitwits of all ages and IQs.