The Three Stooges: Nyuk Nyuk Nyuk, The Stooges Don’t Suck!
The reason I see movies that I expect to be terrible is the vain hope that I will be pleasantly surprised. Very often, an ad campaign can let a film down, or perhaps a film is just borderline unmarketable to a wide audience. Few trailers in recent memory made me wince harder than The Three Stooges. It’s so distinctly old-school irony-free slapstick that intertwining references to iPhones and Jersey Shore made the film seem like a desperate ploy to capitalize on the brand name. It couldn’t please me more to report that the film is actually quite charming. In a world where films are full of shock humor instead of jokes and irony instead of warmth, here is a fresh-faced, irony-free film for kids full of witty humor and puns dispersed within the slapstick. The impressions of the original trio are spot-on, and the Farrellys have achieved their goal of capably introducing the Stooges to contemporary audiences. It’s still a strain to make work in a feature length format, but it has plenty of laughs and, more importantly, heart.
In the first of three “short films” compiled into this 90-minute duration (each one complete with classic Stooges title card), Sister Mary Mengele (Larry David) receives a duffel bag with three babies. Each baby sports peculiar if iconic hair. When people come to the orphanage looking for children to adopt, the sisters (among them Jane Lynch, Jennifer Hudson, and the voluptuous Kate Upton) hope that someone will relieve them of the burden of the troublesome young stooges, Moe, Larry, and Curly. When the rich Mr. Harter (Stephen Collins) comes looking for a child, he adopts Moe, separating him from the pack. Yet when Mr. Harter asks Moe what he wants more than anything, he says to be with his two friends Curly and Larry… so he’s returned to the orphanage at once. Flash forward to the Stooges as adults: Moe played by Chris Diamantopoulos, Larry played by Sean Hayes, and Curly uncannily played by Will Sasso. The orphanage falls into financial trouble, and the Stooges go forth into the world in search of raising the money to save the orphanage in the second and third short. Sofia Vergara and Craig Bierko hire them—but they may be in for more than they bargained for.
Outside of the Mengele reference (which did make me laugh), this film doesn’t have the jokes for adults peppered in that most contemporary children’s films contain. There’s eye candy in the form of Sofia Vergara and Kate Upton, sure—but the character in the film don’t ogle their breasts. Breasts only serve as another part of one’s body for a stooge to accidentally step on, punch, or throw things in between—they live in a sexless world. While much of the contemporary material (an extended Jersey Shore riff in particular) may prove dated sooner rather than later, it works surprisingly well as catharsis; even though we know these guys are in on the joke, we get to see Snooki poked in the eye and Ronnie have his head thrown in the microwave, and the parallels between the Stooges and modern-day stooges are clear. All of the violence is cartoonish and punctuated with silly sound effects to keep the film as far from the realm of realism as possible.
Yet the heart the film contains is absolutely real. The Farrellys clearly have a deep love for the Stooges, seen in this film and their body of work alike. They manage to pull off what the trailers don’t come close to hinting at: the Stooges, while simpletons, are full-blooded characters with feelings who we very naturally grow to care about over the course of the narrative. I can’t help but compare the film to the recent American Reunion. American Reunion was painfully self-aware about the prior existence of their characters—the Stooges re-establishes their characters, seamlessly blending references the older crowd will get while creating bits a new crowd will enjoy. American Reunion was so hungry to bathe itself in nostalgia for the franchise that they forgot to write jokes or give their characters arc. The Three Stooges is nothing but wall-to-wall jokes, delivered in buckshot method: fire as many as possible as the audience, knowing some are likely to hit. Bierko, David, and Vergara are fair game victims for the Stoogery, but the Farrellys and the gifted impressionists delivering the performances are who really shine. The Three Stooges is warm, earnest, and fun—the jokes don’t all work, and the plot is extremely loose at best, but the pace is quick and breezy. It won’t be for everyone, but I’d gladly say hello (hello, hello) to a sequel.