(2012)3Jason BuchananThe Farrelly brothers resurrect one of the most famous comedy acts of the 20th century, and while the results are better than a poke in the eye, the new Three Stooges isn't likely to start a genuine Curly Shuffle revival anytime soon. Funny in fits, fearlessly farcical, and brimming with the brand of traditional slapstick humor that will have panicked parents racing home to rearrange the tool shed so the sledgehammers are well out of reach, the Farrellys' The Three Stooges features a game cast who faithfully re-create the celebrated comic trio, but it fails to sustain the insanity for a full 90 minutes due mostly to a flawed script and one woefully misguided attempt at pop-culture satire.
The story in The Three Stooges is divided into three acts. In the first act, infants Larry, Curly, and Moe are dropped off at a country orphanage and make life for the nuns a living hell. After an adoption opportunity goes awry, the three pals remain at the orphanage into adulthood, when they learn that the home will soon close unless they're able to raise $830,000. Determined to ensure their young friends won't be shipped off to foster homes, the trio set their sights on getting jobs in the city. The second act finds the slaphappy knuckleheads approached by the wealthy and beautiful Lydia (Sofia Vergara) with the opportunity of a lifetime: kill her terminally ill husband so that he can die with dignity, and earn the payday that will save the orphanage. As act three gets underway, the pals are divided by infighting, while Moe (Chris Diamantopoulos) achieves stardom as the newest addition to Jersey Shore. But when Larry (Sean Hayes) and Curly (Will Sasso) discover that an old friend is in danger, they reunite with Moe to save the day.
The original Three Stooges always worked better in small doses. Features were never their thing, and perhaps that's simply due to the nature of their comedy; it's difficult to sustain that level of sheer insanity for any more than a reel or two. Though the Farrelly brothers attempt to remedy this by splitting the plot into three 30-minute segments, they ultimately sabotage their own efforts by attempting to connect them all through the overreaching story arc of the orphanage. As a result, none of the individual segments would be complete if taken out of context, making the stylistic choice seem like an act of desperation rather than a tribute to the original short format. (Perhaps a more interesting -- and faithful -- approach would have been to resurrect the trio in a series of Funny or Die shorts or on their own YouTube channel.) Given the effectiveness of the movie's first act, it's obvious there's still a place in contemporary comedy for slapstick, but a feature film simply doesn't feel like the best delivery method. And it's a shame this Three Stooges reboot likely won't breathe new life into the series, because Diamantopoulos, Hayes, and Sasso succeed in embodying the characters created by Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Curly Howard. In addition to being skilled physical comedians, they also give their dunderheaded characters hearts big enough to make up for their lack of brains.
On the topic of no brains, while the creative decision to turn Moe into a reality-television star does hold real potential, by constructing that aspect of the story around Jersey Shore and providing generous cameos to the "stars" of that series, the Farrellys end up playing into the hands of mindless pop culture more than skewering it. You can dismiss the Three Stooges' juvenile antics, but it's difficult to deny they had real talent, and by contrasting them against the orange-skinned ignoramuses of Jersey Shore, it just highlights how far our standards for humor have fallen. The Three Stooges may be lamebrains, but lazy they're most certainly not. Jersey Shore, on the other hand, is fast-food farce for a generation raised on apathy and irony. To connect the two not only does a disservice to the tradition of The Three Stooges, but to the audience who pay to see this film as well.