Even the most devoted fans of Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Curly Howard might find ninety continuous minutes of the real slapstick-violence trio a bit much. (The Stooges movies were all pretty awful, though of course they were post-Curly.) It’s hardly likely they’ll embrace a feature-length effort to recreate the spirit of their anarchic one-reelers with imitators rather than the real thing. And viewers who never found the originals all that funny will respond even less positively to the Farrelly brothers’ “The Three Stooges,” a misguided homage that mistakes clutter for comedy.
Though divided into chapters introduced by the archetypal opening credit frame from the old shorts, the movie is actually a single narrative. The boys are dumped off at a Catholic orphanage as infants and grow into troublemaking adolescent versions of their older selves (played by Skyler Gisondo, Lance Chantiles-Wertz and Robert Capron, none terribly well). After they’ve become the full-fledged Stooges (Chris Diamantopoulos, Sean Hayes and Will Sasso), still at the place, they’re startled to learn that the home is going to shutter unless some $800,000 can be quickly raised to pay off its debts, and they go bravely into the world to earn it. Their blundering efforts bring them to the attention of a sultry woman, Lydia (Sofia Vergara), and her dimwit lover Mac (Craig Bierko), who enlist them in a scheme to kill her husband, who turns out to be a guy who was once at the orphanage himself (Kirby Heyborne)—and was adopted instead of Moe.
The plot, of course, is no more than a flimsy excuse for lots of knockabout business in the familiar Stooges style. There’s plenty of eye-gouging, head-bonking, face-slapping and the like, accompanied by an avalanche of pratfalls. But the boys stay comrades through it all, with a periodic stop at the corner of sentimentality. And while they inflict much of the punishment on one another, either intentionally or inadvertently, a good deal is visited on others—not just Lydia and Mac, whose plot of course they foil, but the most unsympathetic and nasty of the nuns, played in full habit by Larry David, of all people, and given the doubly insulting name of Sister Mary Mengele, after the Nazi war criminal. (It’s apparently a joke that all the sisters, who include Jane Lynch as the Mother Superior and Jennifer Hudson as Sister Rosemary, don’t age at all over the thirty-five year span during which the Stooges grow from infants to arrested-development adults.) The one bit in “Stooges” that should please almost everyone, though, is when Moe’s recruited to join the cast of “Jersey Shore,” where he promptly metes out well-deserved pain to all the cast members. No one could deserve it more. And of course, everything turns out well in the end for the orphanage and its wee inhabitants.
The Farrellys replicate the antics of the original trio as best they can, though the candy-colored cinematography of Matthew Leonetti bears little resemblance to the look of the cheaply-produced shorts. The same can be said of the leads. Sasso comes off best as Curly, though frankly there are loads of imitators who could probably have done equally well; Hayes tries hard but never quite captures Larry’s pathetic side; and Diamantopoulos is hobbled by the picture’s insistence on giving Moe a soft center. Everybody else plays second fiddle to them, except for the urchins at the orphanage (Max Charles, Jake Peck and Avalon Robbins in particular) who are natural scene-stealers no matter whom they share the spotlight with, and David, who’s certainly no actor but makes an impression simply by bellowing out his lines.
“Stooges” isn’t as awful as the pre-release buzz suggested—which isn’t saying much, since the word was that it was going to be astronomically wretched. But like misbegotten efforts to “feature-ize” old sitcoms—“Bewitched,” say, or “The Beverly Hillbillies”—it’s a mistake, however well-intentioned. Parents may be pleased, however, that the Farrellys (actually Antonio Sabato, Jr. and Justin Lopez) appear in a postscript—spoofy though it may be—advising the young kids who will probably most enjoy the movie not to try the Stooges’ sadistic bits on their friends. Of course, they won’t need the warning if you don’t take them to the picture.