Movie Review: The Three Stooges
How Did They Ever Make a Movie of The Three Stooges? Like This.
By Tom Houseman
There are some movies that, in order to be enjoyed, require the audience to enter with very low expectations. They are usually comedies, and they are usually very stupid (Matthew McConnaughey dramas qualify as well), and if you walk into a theater expecting a good movie, you will undoubtedly leave unfulfilled. But if you prepare yourself for something awful, worst case scenario you will be proven right, and if the movie proves to be enjoyable despite or even because of its stupidity, you will have set the bar so low that it can comically stumble over it. The Three Stooges is not Some Like it Hot, but if you are willing to take it for what it is, you will likely only be mildly disappointed by what you get.
Despite being several decades old, the Three Stooges short films work so well because their mix of broad farce and physical comedy was not just funny, but sweet and earnest. Larry, Curly, and Moe, despite their trademark incompetence and violence towards each other, were lovable schmucks. The plots were simple, often flimsy excuses for the physical gags and dumb puns that were what really carried the films from start to finish. There is a reason why the Three Stooges avoided feature films in their prime, and it is because a film cannot sustain its momentum for 90 minutes on eye pokes and nyuk nyuks alone.
That was not the only challenge The Farrelly Brothers (of Dumb & Dumber fame and The Hall Pass infamy) had to deal with in bringing the Stooges back to the silver screen. The Three Stooges faced the challenge of updating its characters simplicity and earnestness to a more jaded, cynical, fast paced era. They had to make the the endearing childishness of Moe, Larry, and Curly mesh with the mean modern world. Two comedies that accomplished this feat exceptionally well were The Rocky and And Bullwinkle Movie and The Muppets, although both had the advantage of lending themselves more easily to a feature-length format.
The Three Stooges were extremely shallow as performers, never achieving the subversive level of the Marx Brothers or the real emotion and sentimentality of Charlie Chaplin. The highest hopes of any Stooges movie would be to find a plot with enough tread to allow the physical comedy to ride it out, and to have that physical comedy feel fresh and fun enough to make the film feel worth watching. As a result, when I say that The Three Stooges is pretty good, it is with the caveat that pretty good is as good as the movie could have hoped to be, and is therefore a resounding success. The Farrellys managed to take all of the trademarks of the Stooge's shorts, including the complete disregard for the laws of physics, and made them fit seamlessly into a 21st Century story.
Virtually all of the credit must be given to the trio chosen to step into the massive shoes left to be filled by the original Moe, Larry, and Curly. It is a testament to the Farrelly's commitment to this film that they chose the these actors (of whom Sean Hayes is the only recognizable name) rather than stars who might guarantee bigger earnings at the box office. All three are hilarious, throwing themselves completely into the roles and selling them not only as wacky outrageous characters, but as real people with real motivations behind every action. Chris Diamangopoulos probably had the hardest job as Moe, having to make the mean, violent grouch not only funny but also sympathetic, and walked that wire with perfect precision.
The Farrelly brothers seemed to have been phoning it in the last couple years, with the mediocre Stuck On You and the awful The Hall Pass marring their resumes. With that in mind, the highest praise that I can give to The Three Stooges is that not for a second did it feel lazy. The film could have been a series of physical gags stitched together, using whatever props they had on hand wherever they happened to be. But The Farrellys - along with co-writer Mike Cerrone - clearly put a lot of effort into crafting the physical comedy and the verbal sparring, weaving jokes through the narrative and bringing gags back for encores that earn even bigger laughs. Some of the bits are awful, but most work extremely well, and even the cameos of the Jersey Shore cast felt somewhat inspired.
All that being said, is it really worth watching the reborn Stooges when access to the original trio is so easy? There is nothing in this movie that is better than what the Stooges were doing in their prime, all of which is available on DVD. If you love the original shorts so much that you are craving new material, then this product will be at least satisfactory, and even sometimes satisfying. And if you are standing in the movie theater right now, reading this review on your smart phone and trying to decide whether or not to watch The Three Stooges, then go for it. It is certainly better than getting poked in the eyes.