Thursday, April 12, 2012

A hearty helping of Stooges' humor

The Farrelly brothers manage a fine imitation of The Three Stooges, but the movie never quite comes alive.

The Farrelly brothers (Bobby and Peter) evidently are big fans of The Three Stooges, the hapless trio of idiots who -- in various incarnations -- had a long and storied film career as ... well ... a hapless trio of idiots.

Following the episodic form of the Stooges' films, the Farrellys serve up The Three Stooges, three short films separated by title cards but connected by a plot that calls for the Stooges to raise $185,000 to save an orphanage. (The first of these shorts is titled More Orphan Than Not, which should give you some idea about the level of humor.)

Maybe so much effort went into giving the movie an authentic Stooge-like feeling that The Three Stooges feels locked in a world of its own. An impression -- no matter how good -- is not the real thing. Watching The Three Stooges can be a bit like looking at something that has been traced rather than drawn from scratch.

The Stooges are played by actors who are largely unknown, probably a smart decision. Chris Diamantopoulos portrays Moe; Will Sasso appears as Larry; and Sean Hayes does his rendition of Curly. Each of these actors seems especially well cast, and the three of them do a commendable job of reproducing the terrible puns and brutal slapstick that defined so much of the Stooges' humor.

Perhaps to make the movie somewhat relevant to younger audiences, the Farrellys set the action in the present, including a joke about an iPhone and a strained bit about reality TV, notably Jersey Shore. The film, of course, is in color as opposed to the customary Stooges' black-and-white.

A wisp of a story calls for the Stooges to be hired to do some dirty work for a sexy woman (Sofia Vergara) who wants to assassinate her wimpy husband (Kirby Heybourne) and run off with her lover (Craig Bierko).

For the Farrellys, who specialize in gross-outs and raunchy humor, The Three Stooges seems a pretty tame outing. You won't find much by way of the trademark Farrelly humor, aside from a scene in which the Stooges stumble into a hospital nursery where they duel with urinating newborns.

Most of the movie is dominated by the Stooges, who receive some assistance from Jane Lynch (as mother superior of the orphanage where the Stooges grow up); Larry David (as the mean Sister Mary-Mengele) and Jennifer Hudson (as Sister Rosemary). Why Larry David wanted to appear in this movie is beyond me, unless it was to prove that even a nun's habit couldn't disguise the foul disposition with which he's become associated.

You can watch a lot of original Stooges' routines on You Tube, but older audiences -- where most diehard Stooges' fans presumably can be found -- may get a kick out of what amounts to a very good imitation. I'm not at all sure that younger audiences will take to the Stooges' cartoonish humor, which (not surprisingly for the Farrellys) ultimately takes a sentimental turn, appropriate, I suppose, for a valentine to The Stooges that doesn't so much tell their story as replicate their shtick.

A confession: I watched the Stooges on TV as a kid during the '50s and '60s. A guy named Joe Bolton, who dressed as a cop, introduced Stooges'films on a New York-based show called The Three Stooges Funhouse. I never found The Stooges as funny as some of the other kids -- and still don't. Sorry, Officer Joe.

No comments: