The Three Stooges, the new take on the classic comedians from directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly, is far from the worst possible version of what it could have been. That should provide some solace to Stooge fans and general audience members who reacted to the news of a new Three Stooges movie as though it was a sign of the end of days. But the movie does beg the question: even if it was the best possible version of what it could have been, what would that movie be? Why does this thing really exist at all?
It's obvious from the first frames of the movie that the Farrellys are devoted fans of the Three Stooges, but, like a lot of misguided fan service, they go about showing that affection by trying to recreate through imitation -- like a person trying to recreate their favorite gourmet meal but with all the wrong ingredients. In this iteration, the Stooges are Moe (Chris Diamantopoulos), Larry (Sean Hayes) and Curly (MAD TV's Will Sasso), who are dropped off at an orphanage as babies and spend their formative years wreaking havoc on the nuns in charge (including Jane Lynch, Jennifer Hudson and Larry David of Curb Your Enthusiasm and Whatever Works), who attempts a stylized performance but comes off as desperately unfunny). When the orphanage racks up over $800,000 in debt, the Stooges set off on their own to try and earn the money to save their home (and, of course, the children; think of the children). Once out in the world, they get caught up in a murder plot conjured up by Sofia Vergara. Oh, and Moe joins the cast of MTV's Jersey Shore. Yep.
When the first trailers for The Three Stooges began appearing online, the internet exploded in a king of rage, apparently incensed that the movie had been made at all. These weren't just Three Stooges fans, either; it was mostly just people who thought a movie about three guys slapping each other and falling down looked incredibly stupid (these people would actually be the opposite of Three Stooges fans). Those people actively rooting for The Three Stooges to fail may be disheartened to learn that the movie is not terrible. It's also not very good. It's not really anything, actually. It's a fake Three Stooges movie. The three leads are very good at doing impressions, even if they don't really succeed in making them their own in any way -- the characterizations have the depth of a Saturday Night Live sketch. The spirit of the original Stooges is there, too; the film is broken up into three "shorts" that add up to an overall narrative, and there are all kinds of nice touches that pay tribute to the original Stooges films like the speeding up of certain physical bits or the frequent use of dummies in the big stunts. The movie is packed with silly slapstick and bad puns. Unfortunately, there's also the trademark Farrelly Brothers gross-out comedy, like a scene in which Larry, Moe and Curly have a shootout with peeing babies (I'm not making that up) or close-up shots of lion testicles.
Then there is the question of the pop culture references, which sink the movie more than anything else. It's not just that they're in the movie at all, which is bad enough, but that the references themselves are pretty terrible -- namedropping the Geico lizard and iPhones already feels incredibly stale in 2012. If the Farrellys' goal is to try and create this thing that exists out of time, why not let it be timeless? Why go to all the trouble of bringing back the Three Stooges only to couch the movie firmly in modern times? Was seeing Moe interact with the cast of Jersey Shore what was missing from the original Stooges shorts? Obviously, the Farrellys think that audiences will be excited to watch those orange-skinned non-human monsters get their eyes poked by a guy pretending to be Moe Howard, but it makes The Three Stooges already feel dated, and it's just now in theaters. Imagine how that's going to play in three years.
Ultimately, The Three Stooges is kind of critic-proof. If you're a huge Stooges fan, you're either going to love it because it's the Three Stooges or you're going to hate it because it's not the Three Stooges. The Farrelly brothers' genuine affection for these characters and their style of comedy is obvious, but their efforts to make a pure Three Stooges movie are undermined by the insertion of their own tired potty gags. The leads do an admirable job of impersonation, but to call them the Three Stooges would be like saying Darrell Hammond should play James Bond just because he does a killer Sean Connery. It's just not the same thing. At best, The Three Stooges is a cover version of a song that sounds a lot like the original. But what's the point of that when we can just hear the original?
- The Three Stooges is rated PG for slapstick action violence, some rude and suggestive humor including language.
- Release Date: 4/13/12
- Running Time: 92 minutes