With imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, the original Three Stooges would be most flattered (if they were still alive, of course) by the new Farrelly Brothers‘ film The Three Stooges. They could also very well be turning over in their graves. Even Joe Besser and Curly Joe DeRita might be saddened a bit by this flick, and those two guys were saddled with trying to fill the shoes of the original Curly and his follow-up Shemp.

It’s not that The Three Stooges is a terrible film. It’s just unnecessary. Like an extended Saturday Night Live sketch that wears on too long, this movie offers little more than a showcase of Sean Hayes, Will Sasso and Chris Diamantopoulos doing solid impersonations of the original Larry, Curly and Moe. Sorry, Bobby and Peter Farrelly, but that’s not enough to make a good movie.

What was originally rumored to be a serious look at the behind-the-scenes world of the original Stooges, this movie presents the title characters as real men raised in an odd little orphanage where the nuns don’t age and one is actually played by Larry David in nun-drag. Dropped off by a mysterious car when they were babies, Larry, Curly and Moe spend much of their childhood getting into mischief and hoping to be adopted. At one point, Moe actually has a chance to go home with a family, but his insistence that his new parents adopt his other two friends as well kills the deal.

Twenty-five years later, they are still at the orphanage, and they’re still annoying the nuns. One fateful morning, the Monsignor arrives to let everyone know that if they don’t raise $830,000 by the end of the month, they’ll have to foreclose. This sends Larry, Curly and Moe on a quest to raise the money, landing them in a series of unfunny gags from working at a marine habitat park to Moe becoming a cast member of The Jersey Shore.

The Three Stooges suffers not from a lack of passion or enthusiasm, but rather from a lack of charm. The acting by Hayes, Sasso and Diamantopoulos is actually quite impressive. In fact, Hayes nails the mannerisms and inflections of Larry Fine perfectly. Sasso is good enough, though his performance rings of too much caricature and disappointment that he never got to make this impression part of his MADtv line-up. Diamantopoulos surprises with his deadpan delivery as Moe, though his choicest bits are seen in the trailer. Still, as a Stooge revival team, these guys do a fine job. I’d watch the hell out of them in a community theater setting.

The problem is they’re stuck in a film that doesn’t fit in today’s comedy world. This isn’t like The Brady Bunch Movie from 1995 where archaic comedy is played against modern reality for laughs. Instead, the delivery is much the same as it was in the 30s and 40s, but it doesn’t click with the modern framework.

Compounding this fact is the film tries to be too many things at one time. It’s clear the Farrelly Brothers wanted to take the Stooges into today’s world, and sometimes that worked. However, they also try to make a kids’ movie out of the whole things, including a schmaltzy wrap-around story about the orphans wanting to find homes. Then, somewhere in the middle, the Farrellys fall back on bathroom humor in a scene featuring more golden showers than R. Kelly’s home movie collection. It’s all done in a PG sort of way, of course, but it just seems so crass for the Stooges (who avoided this type of humor partly because of the Hays Code of the time, but still never seemed appropriate for their repertoire).

Then there’s the Jersey Shore thing. It’s bad enough the movie has not-so-subtle product placement references to Heineken and twice for Geico. For some reason, the directors thought it was a good idea to cram these troglodyte guidos into the film. This reeks of studio intervention and awkward crossover promotion. None of these scenes are remotely funny as they take Moe out of his slapstick pattern with Larry and Curly and instead feature him smacking around JWoww, Snooki and The Situation. Much like that R. Kelly comment in the previous paragraph, the Jersey Shore is an old joke and shouldn’t even be considered funny in 2012.

Die-hard Stooge fans might enjoy this film for its spot-on impressions and the throwback to Golden Age slapstick. However, they’re just as likely to hate the film because of its derivative nature crammed into a story better fit for a Larry the Cable Guy kids’ movie.

The Three Stooges isn’t the worst movie of this year, and it might elicit a laugh or two now and then. But it’s a misdirected misfire of missed opportunities.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to wash the taste of this film out of my mouth by watching some classic Three Stooges episodes.

The Upside: Sean Hayes gives the comedic genius of Larry Fine the proper respect and homage he deserves.

The Downside: The film never finds the original spark that made the Three Stooges hilarious.

On the Side: Though Curly is most remembered as the third Stooge, his brother Shemp was the original third Stooge before the comedy team started making shorts. Shemp took over after Curly’s death and starred in 73 shorts with Moe and Larry until his death in 1955.

Grade: C-


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