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"The Three Stooges": Oddball homage hits and misses

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Reel Mama: "The Three Stooges": Oddball homage hits and misses

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

"The Three Stooges": Oddball homage hits and misses

The double eye poke.  The tweaks on the nose. The hair pulling.  The noggin knocking.  All accompanied by loud and hilarious sound effects originating in the era of silent film.  If you grew up watching The Three Stooges like I did, then the violent yet somehow heartwarming antics of this brainless yet well-meaning trio are probably close to your heart.  To fall in love with the Farrelly brothers’ 2012 take on The Three Stooges, you need to be a die-hard fan and then some.
The new Stooges movie is a series of silly, disjointed skits loosely strung together in a storyline that could have provided a brilliant showcase for some classic slapstick antics with a clever plot, but instead is messy, oddly amateurish, and a little bizarre.  In it the Stooges find themselves needing to raise $830,000 to save the orphanage where they grew up.  Right away they find work: a sexy gold digger (Sofía Vergara) tricks them into becoming assassins, convincing them to end her husband’s life as a mercy killing.  Even the official 20th Century Fox synopsis calls this plot development “oddball.”  The Stooges louse things up as always, and through a strange turn of events, Moe winds up as the newest cast member of Jersey Shore.
The Three Stooges as a Hollywood feature film had more false starts than one of Moe’s harebrained business schemes, and it shows.  The result is a faint shadow of the Farrelly brothers’ hysterical Dumb and Dumber.  The combined star power of Sean Hayes as Larry, Will Sasso as Curly and Jim Diamantopoulos as Moe can’t equal that of one Jim Carrey, who at one point was slated to star in a Stooges film, the script for which never made it out of the operating room.   The new Stooges are three gifted TV comedians, but their talents are straightjacketed to a certain extent:  these actors weren’t given free reign to craft original, zany performance like Carrey in several Farrelly classics, but instead were required to deliver exacting impersonations of the original Stooges (Larry Fine, Moe Howard, and Curly Howard) as the Stooge fan base would demand.  
Will Sasso has built his career on impersonations, and viewers will remember him as one of the cast members of Mad TV, where he brilliantly captured the behavioral nuances in at times unflattering but hilarious portrayals of famous folks such as Bill Clinton and Kenny Rodgers.  It’s no surprise that his Curly is spot on.  He’s perfect for the part.  Sean Hayes may not be a household name, but everyone knows him as “just Jack” from Will and Grace.  Not perhaps the most obvious choice for Larry, but this one was probably the most difficult to cast.  Hayes’ strength is timing rather than impersonations, but he struggles to bring sympathy and heart to the role.  Diamantopoulos has appeared in countless roles as memorable supporting characters in TV sitcoms.  While his relentless squinting and mugging are a dead ringer for Moe, his by-the-book impersonation seems to stifle his charisma and spontaneity.
The real star of the show is the knuckle-headed violence, and the new trio have mastered the slapstick to a tee.  It is absolutely flawless, as seen on an extra-extended and laugh-out-loud funny scene cycling through a seemingly endless series of slaps, punches and pokes capped with the delicious sounds of honking, clanging and pounding.  A few more of these antics would have done the movie good.  I could have done without the scene where the Stooges arm themselves with peeing babies and get soaked having the equivalent of a water gun fight.  Such tasteless and cheap grabs for laughs don’t do justice to the Stooges’ original comedy and lack the heart and humor of moments in the Farrelly brothers' better films, such as Cameron Diaz using sperm as mousse in Something About Mary.
The supporting cast of the Stooges is a mixed bag.  The child actors portraying the orphans were directed to deliver saccharine, over-the-top performances for maximum cheese effect.  The notable exception to this is Skyler Gisondo as young Moe.  He brings phenomenal charisma to the role and eerily captures the essence of the Stooges’ ringleader.  He easily steals every scene he’s in and is neck and neck with Sasso for best performance in the movie.
Jane Lynch of Glee fame plays a humorless nun at the orphanage: talk about a waste of her talent.  I wouldn’t have minded seeing her take a few jabs at the knuckleheaded trio. Jennifer Hudson also plays a nun, but again, her talent remains hidden beneath her habit, only to emerge when she inexplicably bursts into a spiritual when Moe, Larry, and Curly leave the orphanage.  Sofía Vergara is the Latin firecracker with the gravity-defying physique: not a stretch for her, but it’s always fun to watch.
The film could have benefitted from a sly rendition of the Stooges as anachronisms in the new millennium, similar to the 1990s update of The Brady Bunch.  The anachronisms played for humor are significantly watered down in this movie.  The Farrelly Brothers’ “don’t try this at home” lecture at the end takes political correctness to new heights.  It undermines the entire film, but doubtlessly was insisted upon by the legal department.  I’m sure Moe, Curly, and Larry are looking down from the great beyond in between bashing each other with their harps and choking each other with their halos.  They are in disbelief that our society has become so litigious that their humor has to be explained away to the point where the filmmakers of this homage practically apologize for it.
Reel Mama’s rating: 10 and up.  The Farrelly’s forte really is comedy for teens and immature adults.  They took a stab at kids’ film and missed.  The assassin plot in which the Stooges plan to smother their victim with a pillow is too dark for a PG film.  Some of the humor, such as an object getting caught in Sofía’s ample cleavage and the aforementioned diaper-less baby boy pee party, seem more appropriate for a PG-13 movie.  There is of course a lot of slapstick violence.  There’s no language to speak of, except for juvenile words like “wuss.”  The appearance of the Jersey Shore cast could raise some eyebrows, but seeing them take the classic Stooges beating from Moe is a riot.


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