I have to admit, I avoided the Farrelly brothers new movie “The 3 Stooges” for a while. It was a prime example of a film that seemed utterly unnecessary and I had no confidence, knowing the state of modern comedy, that any director would be able to capture what made the original Stooges so beloved. After finally catching up with the film, I have to admit that I was pretty surprised at just how well the Farrelly brothers channelled the Stooges unique brand of humor. This is actually a comedy with some pretty good laughs. But it also feels like an imitation and a little of these Stooges goes a long, long way.
“The 3 Stooges” is unabashed slapstick silliness that covers everything from the Stooges’ trademark belly punches, eye pokes, and face slaps to their knuckleheaded way with words. It’s relentlessly rambunctious and completely juvenile, yet this lighthearted story has some success and it’s mainly due to some incredibly committed performances from its three leads. The transformation of Chris Diamantopoulos (Moe), Sean Hayes (Larry), and Will Sasso (Curly) into these three classic comedy characters is nothing short of amazing. And it’s not just their impeccable physical resemblances. Their voices, mannerisms, and of course their slapstick antics are unmistakably Stooge-like. But perhaps what’s best about their performances is that they never stop and wink at the audience. They each play their roles straight and it really helps the film.
The movie is broken into three clever “episodes”. The story itself is about as simple as it gets. The orphanage the Stooges were raised in has fallen on tough economic times and is being forced to shut their doors. That is unless they can get $830,000. Our lovable buffoons, who still live at the orphanage and have been completely sheltered from social interaction and any modernities, take it on themselves to head out into the world and get the money to save their home. Of course their sheltered lives and natural idiocy lead to a series of wacky ‘fish out of water’ scenes and several off-the-wall encounters. Some of the moments work really well and generate some genuine laughs. But as the movie progresses it seems to lose more and more of its energy and interest.
I mentioned above that a little of these Stooges goes a long way and that’s one of the real problems with the movie. Yes, the three leads do an amazing job of portraying the 3 Stooges. But over time their shtick runs headfirst into a wall of repetition. The gags become increasingly generic and less and less funny. And even worse, there were times when it seemed either the movie was running short on material or the Farrelly’s just felt the need to include it, but it resorts to your standard modern-day urine and fart jokes. I just couldn’t help but feel that the movie was running out of gas and that did make it harder to overlook the other more obvious faults with the story.
Even with its faults, “The 3 Stooges” did surprise me. It has some really weak spots in the writing and it may have a hard time holding the attention of anyone over 12 years old. But it certainly has it’s funny moments particularly in the first half of the film. And there’s no way you can discount the really good performances from Diamantopoulos, Hayes, and Sasso. But even with their tremendous efforts this still felt like a really good Elvis impersonator. They look like Elvis. They sound like Elvis. They shake like Elvis. But they aren’t Elvis. But you know, a lot of people like Elvis impersonators and enough is done right in “The 3 Stooges” to earn it an audience. Personally, I just needed a little bit more.