“Nyah-ah-ahhh!!!” Larry, Moe, and Curly (Sean Hayes, Chris Diamantopoulos, and Will Sasso) react to their latest disaster in the Farrelly Brothers’ The Three Stooges.
Yeah, I went. What’s it to ya?
Have to admit I didn’t feel right about it. Sitting there in the theater, waiting for it to start, I was feeling uneasy and a little guilty.
I was sure that as soon as the lights went out my mother would come charging into the multiplex, dash up to the projection booth, and turn off the projector.
Mom Mannion hates the Stooges. Always has.
When I was a kid one of the local TV stations used to broadcast an hour of Stooges shorts and Popeye cartoons every weekday morning starting at six. And every morning at five thirty I’d be up, make myself a bowl of cereal, take it into the living room and settle down to watch the end of Sunrise Semester and then the Stooges. I loved the Stooges. But I was careful not to laugh. And I kept the sound way down. Because I knew.
If so much as a nyuk or a woob or an Oh, a wiseguy made its way upstairs, Mom Mannion would snap awake and come flying downstairs to turn of the TV.
Like I said, Mom Mannion hated the Stooges. Everybody’s mother did.
So please don’t tell her I went to the movie.
Which I enjoyed, if you want to know. And I’m guessing you do, cause why else are you reading this? I had a blast.
Ok. I’m not about to recommend it, exactly. I’m just telling you I enjoyed it. I can’t tell you if you will. You have to use your judgment. If you’ve never liked the Three Stooges you probably won’t like The Three Stooges. (You should ask yourself, though, if you really don’t like them or you just feel you shouldn’t like them.) If you loved the Stooges, that’s another question. You might feel too loyal to the real Stooges to give these boys a chance. You might feel like film critic Tony Dayoub who told me in a Twitter exchange a while back that he was hoping to give the movie a skip because he never liked when the third Stooge was anybody but Curly, so why would he want to watch three replacements?
The answer to that is Shemp (and I have a soft spot for Shemp), Joe Besser, and Curly Joe DeRita were not Curly while Will Sasso is. Just like Chris Diamantopoulos is Moe and Sean Hayes is Larry. Boy, is he ever Larry.
If at this point you’re moved to point out that the Stooges were never the comic geniuses the Marx Brothers were, save it. Next time I’m in McDonalds enjoying a Big Mac, stop by and you can tell me how much better the burgers are at Carl’s Jr.
The main and maybe the only reason to see the movie is the performances of the three leads, who are brilliant. What they do goes beyond dead-on impersonations. They don’t do Moe Howard, Jerry Howard, and Larry Fine doing Moe, Curly, and Larry. They play the characters the Howards and Fine created. I never felt reminded of the Stooges. I felt I was watching the Stooges.
The effect is helped by the Farrelly Brothers’ faithfulness to the spirit of the Stooges’ two-reelers.
To start with, there’s a plot.
The best of Stooges’ shorts told stories, slight ones but they told them solidly and as if the outcomes mattered. Something was at stake and often not for the Stooges themselves but for someone else whose cause they'd adopted. The plots weren't excuses for the boys to hit, slap, poke, and wallop each other. They didn't need excuses for that. They encountered problems they had to solve and the fun and the funny was in watching them try to solve them or fail to solve them.
In the movie, Mo, Larry, and Curly set out to raise money to save the orphanage where they grew up and somehow manage to enmesh themselves in the plot of Double Indemnity which leads them to invading a hospital, starting a salmon farm on a golf course, crashing a party at a mansion, and joining the cast of Jersey Shore.
Along the way there’s the expected amount of eye-poking, ear, nose, and hair-pulling, tongue-biting, head-knocking, belly-bumping, wall-thumping, heavy object dropping, pratfalling, and general mayhem creating.
No pie-throwing, amazingly. An oversight the Farrelly Brothers regret, I’m sure.
Much as I loved the Stooges when I was a kid, I don't have an encyclopedic knowledge of their oeuvre and it’s been years since I've watched any of their shorts all the way through. But I'm pretty sure the Farrellys worked in at least nods to most of their best recurring gags, tropes, and routines, including a variation that nicely ups the ante on one of my favorites, Moe drawing a saw across Curly's skull, Curly's cry of pain “Oh oh oh oh” turning into a cheerfully surprised “Oh look”!, and the camera closing in to show that all the saw's teeth are bent.
And while the movie is set in the thoroughly undisguised present, the plot takes the boys into settings and situations that haven't much changed since the 1930s. A hospital nursery, a golf course, a zoo, a fancy party at a mansion. All places the original Stooges could bumble and stumble into to cause mischief without having to cope with any future shock.
I also liked how they found ways to get the boys into different costumes. Every short began with the Stooges in a new line of work. They were firemen, plumbers, auto mechanics, carpenters, farmers, big game hunters, ice men, cowboys, Union spies in the Civil War, private eyes, doctors. (“Calling Dr Howard, Dr Fine, Dr Howard!”) There'd be no explanation for the career change or the time travel or their sudden acquisition of actual competency at whatever enterprise they were putting their hands to. But then every short was complete unto itself. It didn't matter that they were soldiers in this episode after having been college professors in the last one. But the movie is a single long story and the Stooges are who and what they start off as throughout, so the trick the Farrellys have to pull off is how to get them dressed like carpenters and farmers and doctors and TV stars and society swells while keeping them inside the plot. They pull it off.
One thing disappointed me. They don’t give Curly his due. Curly was often the hero of the Stooges shorts. The plots would center around him and it would be up to him to save the day. And in many of the shorts we got to see Curly on his own, dealing with supporting characters, and even all alone, working out a problem, his solutions causing more trouble than they saved, of course. Curly was the most gifted physical comedian of the three and he had the best timing. Moe knew this and made sure bits were built around his brother to showcase his talents as a mime and an ad-libber. Sasso is given a couple of brief moments to shine on his own, but the Farrellys really should have let him have at least one extended solo routine like the original Curly’s classic ice shaving scene in An Ache in Every Stake.
But that’s just a way of saying again how perfectly Sasso---and Hayes and Diamantopoulos---recreate the originals. And, like I said, the three leads are really the reason to see the movie. Plus, it’s actually funny.
As for the supporting cast…it’s fun to see Jane Lynch playing it in a very non-Jane Lynch sort of way as a nun. Jennifer Hudson’s best moment comes near the end of the credits, so stick around. A little bit of Larry David as Sister Mary Mengele goes a long way and fortunately the Farrellys don’t let him take it too far beyond that. Craig Bierko takes his punishment well. Sofia Vergara wears her tight dresses in a way that makes you understand why men would want to kill for her. And Snooki and the rest of the cast of Jersey Shore do a good job parodying their self-parodies.
The real standouts are the three young actors who play the Stooges as ten year old kids, Lance Chantiles-Wertz as Larry, Robert Capron as Curly, and, especially Skyler Gisondo as Moe. And they get to deliver the Stooges’ signature musical Hello.
Now, one more thing that the Farrellys got right, and this brings me back to Mom Mannion.
They made the Stooges good guys.
Mom didn’t want us watching the Stooges because she was worried we would hurt ourselves imitating them. She didn’t think we were dumb enough to bop each other with hammers or rake saws across our skulls. But she did think we might try to pretend like they did and poke each other in the eye or bonk each other over the head or knock our knuckleheads together accidentally while “rehearsing.”
What I could never make her understand is that, well, yeah, I enjoyed the slapstick, but the reason I liked the Stooges was that I liked the Stooges.
They were good guys.
At least they were in my favorites. I didn’t like the ones in which they were just jerks or dopes.
In my favorites, they were well-meaning and good-hearted and they took the side of the weak and the downtrodden and the down on their luck and the nice and the decent and the honest against the rich and scheming and powerful and mean.
And they looked out for each other.
You might remember that Moe rarely called either Larry or Curly (or Shemp) by their real names. When he wasn’t calling them knuckleheads or other insults, he called them…
Which is what a Depression era movie big brother would call the younger brothers he loves and worries about and who love him and worry about him back.
Like the originals, these Stooges love each other.
They just have a funny way of showing it.
The Three Stooges, directed by Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly, written by the Farrellys and Mike Cerrone, starring Chris Diamantopoulos, Sean Hayes, Will Sasso, Larry David, Jennifer Hudson, and Jane Lynch. Now in theaters.
I mentioned how the Farrellys managed to work in nods to the original Stooges’ best recurring gags and classic routines. They missed one of my favorites though. “No, limboiger!”