DIR: Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly • WRI: Mike Cerrone, Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly • PRO: Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly Bradley Thomas, Charles B. Wessler • DOP: Matthew F. Leonetti • ED: Sam Seig • DES: Arlan Jay Vetter • CAST: Sean Hayes, Chris Diamantopoulos, Will Sasso
They’re back: despite the original trio(s) having passed away decades ago, The Three Stooges return to woo a new generation with their physical comedy and amusing sound effects. Directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly have cast three new actors as the titular buffoons – Sean Hayes, Will Sasso and Chris Diamantopoulos as Larry, Curly and Moe, respectively. The trio are easily the highlight of this film – completely committed to the hyperactivity and eccentric mannerisms of the iconic characters (although more iconic in the States than they are here). Unfortunately, the film they find themselves in is unsure whether it wants to embrace the new or the old, resulting in an awkward, unsatisfying whole.
The story couldn’t be simpler: the Stooges grew up in an orphanage run by Mother Superior (Jane Lynch) and her fellow nuns (including, bizarrely, the great Larry David in drag). Like many hapless heroes past, the orphanage’s imminent closure is the catalyst that provokes the middle-aged trio to leave their lifelong home and track down the funds to keep the place open. While desperately searching for work, they’re approached by a scheming wife (Sofía Vergara) and her secret lover (Craig Bierko), who promise to provide the Stooges with the required funds if they’re willing to murder her ‘terminally ill’ husband. Misadventures are sure to follow!
The plot is too throwaway to warrant much comment, and there’s little doubt it’s simply there to structure the gags. The film’s biggest problem, alas, is that it simply isn’t very funny. While the leads’ commitment is to be admired, the comic timing feels decidedly off throughout. The gags are there, but are mostly cheap and obvious, often signposted minutes in advance. So-so special effects further dilute their impact. The Farrelly Brothers produced some comedic gold early in their career, but they continue a lengthy streak of mediocrity here.
The Farrellys are unsure what audience to aim at. Accurate emulation of the sights and sounds of old school cinematic comedy – from classic title cards to endless trademark ‘honking’- infrequently suggest this may be an effort for a nostalgic older crowd familiar with the original incarnations of the Stooges. Yet it also positions itself as a family movie through and through, with its broad narrative and simplistic slapstick. But then there’s the Farrellys’ trademark toilet humour, and an awkward tendency to focus on Vergara’s cleavage. Oh, and there’s also a plethora of misguided pop cultural references – most dismally through extended cameos from the cast of the deplorable Jersey Shore. I’m usually firmly against the idea that a film needs a ‘target audience’, but this one seems to want all of them at once and hence transforms into a feature-length identity crisis. I for one wish the sibling directors would have just embraced the old-fashioned slapstick without feeling to unconvincingly modernise it, à la The Artist. A weak epilogue homages the original series, but unfortunately the ‘don’t try it at home’ schtick simply adds a condescending final insult to injury.
It’s a shame Sasso, Hayes and Diamantopoulos have so little to work with, as with a bit more effort the Farrellys could have given them the script their enthusiasm deserves. There’s a few light chuckles here and there, including a decent dynamite gag and a running joke about Curly’s hair. But there was not a single belly laugh in the screening I attended, which is a fairly damning indication of the film’s minimal comedic value.
The Three Stooges has an enthusiastic cast, and directors who certainly have affection for the source material. They even very occasionally nail the aesthetics. But when a cross-dressing Larry David cannot save a comedy, you just know something has gone very wrong indeed. But then again this is a film that’s pretty much critic-proof. Maybe your kids will like it?
Rated PG (see IFCO website for details)
The Three Stooges is released on 24th August 2012