I fondly remember watching the Three Stooges with my father. Every Friday night, we ritualistically turned on the three comic misfits who violently pounded on each other and foiled the expectations of high society. The violence that emanated from the Stooges wasn’t the sole selling point for me. Don’t get me wrong, the physical comedy that erupted on-screen led to many belly laughs, but what drew me to these ugly, deranged men was their undeniable chemistry and charm. Whether it was Moe Howard’s gruff demands or Curly’s responsive barks, these three men felt irrevocably bonded. Needless to say, I wanted to succumb to nostalgia by seeing Peter and Bobby Farrelly’s contemporary take on the Three Stooges. Unfortunately, based on the trailers alone, I felt the Stooges’ reputation was being desecrated for the sake of fulfilling a dream. The three actors charged with filling the shoes of legends (Sean Hayes, Will Sasso and Chris Diamantopoulos) are doppelgängers to the venerable Vaudeville troupe. Their hair, mannerisms and vocal cues represent the resurrection of Hollywood’s dead comedy tycoons.
The only difference being that the charm and sly wit found amidst the original shorts are strangely missing from the Farrelly’s film. Part of this is due to the iconic characters being shoehorned into a contemporary setting. Admittedly, I only envision the Stooges in black and white circa the 40’s. Outside of this issue, these incarnations don’t feel like the genuine article. They’re impressionists more than embodiments of the Stooges. The actors make a heroic attempt to resurrect the dead, but it just doesn’t work. Undermining their efforts is a dimwitted setup from the Farrellys. The Farrelly’s screenplay finds the Stooges playing around in three episodes (leading to one story). Breaking the film up into three shorts is a call back to the structure of most Stooge adventures. They were short, sweet and usually stand-alone moments of madcap violence and innocent stupidity. More often than not, the Stooges would ruin somebody’s day but not ours.
The Farrellys try to harness this Stooge motif, but it doesn’t work as the faux Stooges inadvertently find themselves in a silly murder plot and a schmaltzy family tale that is unbelievably forced. Breaking down the film into episodes isn’t a bad idea, but the episodes don’t sufficiently build to an apex. Instead, they feel like stop gaps between hits and sound effects. Exacerbating the problem further is the Farrelly’s desire to turn their beloved Stooges into fodder for children. So, crotch shots and boob honks are the prevailing option for laughs. These kind of punch lines are better served for lame brain films like Baby Geniuses. Granted, the violence found in a Stooge short is reminiscent of the carnage found in a Saturday morning cartoon, but there is a cleverness to an authentic Stooge hit that makes the pain morph into affectionate petting. Very rarely do the bumps and bruises translate into anything that’s memorable or fresh in the Farrelly’s take.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the film made me laugh on a few occasions. One in particular revolved around Moe’s induction into the cast of the “Jersey Shore”. Laughs couldn’t be any easier than this, but it’s still worthwhile to see Jersey’s finest get poked in the eyes or struggle with Moe’s alpha personality. Being that this film is an intended comedy, and one that piggy backs off a legendary stage and film trio, The Three Stooges should be funnier while maintaining the essence that made the titular characters into comedy legends. I can certainly admire the Farrellys for trying to live out their dream, but somehow they lost track of what made them fans.