One man’s labor may just be a labor for others to endure. That’s the feeling I got from the Farrelly brothers’ take with The Three Stooges. Now I enjoy the Stooges. Going as far to own all volumes of their classic shorts on DVD. Yes, even the post-Shemp years. Growing up, a Three Stooges poster adorned my wall. It was the image where Moe is about to attempt a field goal with the top of Curly’s head acting as the tee and Larry holding the ball steady with his thumb and forefinger. I wouldn’t go as far to call myself a Stoogemaniac but I’m definitely a fan. So when the Bobby and Peter Farrelly had made it known that the Three Stooges was a dream project of theirs, well of course my curiosity was piqued. But in the decade that it has taken to bring it to the big screen, the face of comedy has changed, for better or worse (depending who you ask).
Slapstick as a comedy method varies in its execution, and is itself a lost art, yet when presented in a current setting it just feels weird. Maybe it’s because the legacy of the Three Stooges was forged in the early 20th century on stage in the era of Vaudeville, a theatrical performance that included several types of performers (dancers, comedians, magicians, et al.). Having varying degrees of success with the feature-length Soup to Nuts and appearances as comic relief in various early 1930s comedies, the Stooges took off in the mid-‘30s making comedy short subjects for Columbia Pictures.
Now Chumbawamba may have once sang about getting knocked down only to get up again, but I don’t think they were talking about the Three Stooges, who made falling down over and over again an art. Today, comedy has become more about having a constant barrage of ad-libbing and line-o-rama rambling to see what sticks. The Three Stooges isn’t nearly as awful as the advertisements make it out to be. While still bad it is very apparent that the style of comedy doesn’t really fit in today’s setting. Or maybe my tastes in what is or is not funny have changed. It’s one thing to incorporate slapstick into a feature (see HomeAlone or The Naked Gun), but seeing Curly handle an iPhone or Moe appearing on Jersey Shore feels wrong. Can you imagine a Charlie Chaplin film made in 2012 where Modern Times is reinterpreted for today’s world of overinflated gas prices and government debt? Besides, the Farrelly brothers already gave us a Stooge-inspired feature with their 1994 directorial debut Dumb and Dumber.
Despite my misgivings, The Three Stooges has its moments. The best exchange happens on a soundstage -how apropos – where the trio goes back and forth with a series slaps, tumbles and pokes. In that instant my stern face, where my mouth had been mostly locked for the duration of the movie, suddenly opened up and a laugh escaped. Sadly, those escaped laughs were few and far between. The back-and-forth slapstick goes on for a few minutes and it is a wonderful ballet of slapstick.
When the Farrellys were casting the feature there were discussions with Oscar winners Benicio del Toro and Sean Penn to play the roles of Moe Howard and Larry Fine, respectively. Penn was all set but dropped out to concentrate on his charity initiative in Haiti. Jim Carrey was going to play Curly, going as far to gain forty pounds but fearing health concerns also dropped out. In the end, the Farrellys went with Chris Diamantopoulous as Moe, Will & Grace‘s Sean Hayes as Larry, and MADtv‘s Will Sasso as Curly.
Sean Hayes and Will Sasso seem like natural fits with their comedy backgrounds, but Diamantopoulous is a bit of a wild card. Unlike his co-stars, this Greek-Canadian actor is fairly unknown. But he’s played the likes of Robin Williams and Frank Sinatra in television movies and miniseries. And yet Diamantopoulous does a fantastic Moe. There’s a complexity there that was a bit unsuspected. (Honestly, how complex could Moe possibly be?) But when he stops yucking it up with physical humor you see a look of sadness in his eyes making him come across as sympathetic and not as a buffoon.
The Three Stooges is divided into three episodes. But because the story is told in chronological order, rather than present standalone stories, the episode title cards act only as a cute reference to the original B&W shorts. After getting tossed out of a speeding vehicle on the front stoop of the Sisters of Mercy Orphanage, young Moe, Larry, and Curly are seen as a blessing. That blessing turns sour as the three run the nuns ragged with their mischief and high jinks. Unable to find suitors to adopt the boys, the trio continues to live at the orphanage for the next 25 years. Unfortunately for them the orphanage is on the verge of closure due to outstanding insurance payments as the result of the physical and psychological injuries the nuns and orphans have had to endure over the last two decades. If the orphanage doesn’t come up with $830,000 in the next 30 days, its doors will be closed for good.
There’s another subplot involving a woman (Modern Family‘s Sofia Vergara) wanting to kill her husband, and offering to pay the trio the total amount needed to save the Sisters of Mercy. Of course, they botch the job and are left to develop a new scheme to make the money. One thing leads to another and the Stooges go their mostly separate ways. Larry and Curly remain a tandem while Moe flies solo, becoming the latest cast member of Jersey Shore (as Dyna-Moe – even though Curly’s the one known to carry dynamite). They reunite to save the orphanage through pure happenstance due in large part to Moe’s newfound fame on that channel that once aired music videos.
The Three Stooges may have been a dream project for the Farrelly brothers, but this interpretation is evident that in the ten years it took to make that dream became a nightmare along the way. It maintains the same style and buffoonery we expect from the Three Stooges, but a big-screen version is unwarranted. Their childish antics may play well for children (Hey, who wouldn’t enjoy seeing the Stooges take babies in their arms and engage in a pee-pee skirmish?), but older audiences won’t be nearly as amused. Do yourself a favor and just skip these Stooges and stick with the Columbia shorts.
Director: Peter and Bobby Farrelly Notable Cast: Sean Hayes, Will Sasso, Chris Diamanopoulous, Jane Lynch, Sofia Vergara, Jennifer Hudson, Craig Bierko Writer(s): Farrelly Brothers and Mike Cerrone
Travis Leamons is one of the Inside Pulse Originals and currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Inside Pulse Movies. He's told that the position is his until he's dead or if "The Boss" can find somebody better. I expect the best and I give the best. Here's the beer. Here's the entertainment. Now have fun. That's an order!