I’m probably going to see better comedies this year, but I don’t think I’m going to laugh at any one as much as I did at The Three Stooges. When I told that to my editors, they both wrote back in disbelief. I know the trailer got a massive amount of flack—the appearance of Snooki was a major criticism—but I’m not alone in my appreciation of the film. My colleague at SlashFilm, Jordan Hoffman, recently shared his like.
And it’s the Farrellys; after nearly 20 years of their films, have we learned to not underestimate them yet? Whatever. The movie is funny, very, very funny and, as Ebert noted in his review, is as good a film that could have been made about The Three Stooges. If you don’t like the original shorts, you probably won’t like it, but if you do, I think you’ll laugh a lot, because the Farrellys stay close to the source.
The plot is as shallow as any of the original shorts—the boys try to raise $830,000 to save an orphanage, getting caught up in several hair-brained, money-making schemes. That’s pretty much it. Of course one of those schemes involves an unwitting assassination, and Moe somehow ends up as the star of Jersey Shore; there’s Larry David as a put-upon nun (with a very pronounced New Jersey accent) and Jane Lynch as Mother Superior; a subplot involving an angry lion at the zoo and a sick kid at the orphanage.
All of it’s incredibly stupid, but the difference between this and your typical live-action Disney “comedy” from the early ’90s is that the Farrellys know it. A good comparison is Airplane!, whose story is just as flimsy and contrived yet works because the focus is on how much humor you can get from each venue.
Still, this doesn’t seem like a film that would work in any context, and yet, it does. Aside from going for laughs, I think there’s three things the Farrellys did to pull it off:
1) they cast three guys who are absolutely perfect – Chris Diamantopoulos as Moe, Sean Hayes as Larry, and Will Sasso as Curly all have the look, mannerisms, and voices down. The resemblances are flat-out amazing, and their timing is every bit as good as the originals. (And if you remember wayyy back in 2009, the actors in talks were Benicio del Toro as Moe, Sean Penn as Larry, and Jim Carrey as Curly. Talented as those three are, I don’t think they could top Chris, Sean, and Will, and the star power would have been distracting.)
2) The Farrellys are endlessly creative with the physical comedy: It’s not just about the eye pokes and nose grabs; it’s about how they’re dodged, foiled, recovered, riposted, and what-have-you. Half the fun is seeing just how long the Farrellys can keep a sequence going—and the extended fight at the climax of Act II is impressive not just in the performances, not just in the fact that it works, but also that it exists at all. Add to that the sound design, which even gets its own meta-gag and is worthy of an Oscar.
And 3) They break the film up into three parts, each with its own title and introduction, complete with the traditional “Three Blind Mice” theme song. On the surface, it’s not necessary because there’s an over-arcing plot, but it’s ingenious for the pacing as the Farrellys realize The Stooges work best in shorts, and each of the three also work as separate pieces.
I should also note that the audience laughed their asses off. I’m going to be watching Pete Sobczynski’s review, because if he doesn’t give it a good rating, I’m going to give him some grief, because I heard him laughing a lot. I never would have thought that a throwaway line such as casually referring to a nurse as “Bulldog” would have an entire theater in stitches.
I also think the Farrellys deserve some credit for taking a risk. It’d be easy to do a Stooges biopic and get a lot of drama from the real-life troubles of Curly, the rise and fall of Shemp, the difficulties they had working with Ted Healy (and his own mysterious death, supposedly at the hands of Wallace Beery and Albert Broccoli), and doubtless you’d get something as long and directionless as The Life and Death of Peter Sellers.
In all, it’s classic Three Stooges, with plenty of nods—a scene where Larry plucks one character’s armpit hair reminded me of my Uncle’s long-held belief that Larry was the most depraved of The Stooges for doing precisely that—and love for Howard, Fine, and Howard’s skill at physical comedy. It takes a while to get going, yes, it’s stupid, yes, but it’s also hilarious.