I suppose the main question about this update is will the ridiculously violent, but often hilarious, slapstick comedy of Moses and Jerome Horiwitz and Louis Feinberg translate onto the modern screens of 2012. I am of course writing about Moe and Curly Howard and their third wheel, Larry Fine, who became the Three Stooges (after breaking away from comedian Ted Healy) and began making a series of short (20 minute two-reelers) features in 1933.
While Moe was the self-appointed leader (and used that power to slap, poke, gouge, crack, punch and bop the others at will), it was his younger brother, Curly, who has achieved pop culture status and is revered to this day for his wild, man-child antics. He was the darling of the troupe even in his era, from 1933 to 1946, when years of bad living and alcoholism led to a debilitating stroke.
Moe and Larry carried on, first with Moe’s older brother, Samuel (Shemp), Joe Besser and, finally, “Curly Joe” DeRita. After over 200 short films, Columbia decided to cease production, thus ending the long career of the trio. In 1959, however, reruns of the old features became popular on television and introduced a whole new generation to the Stooges’ goofiness. Revitalized, they finally began making the full feature films denied to them for so long by their studio (with DeRita in the Curly role). For years thereafter, children (including this author) would come home from school and watch a full hour (three shorts) of this team which fits somewhere between the Marx Brothers and Abbott and Costello on my personal funny meter.
A critically-acclaimed TV movie was made in 2000, and now, the Farrelly brothers (Peter and Bobby) have put their love of this troupe into The Three Stooges, a wide theatrical release with Chris Diamantopoulos (various TV series, including “The Sopranos” and a voice on “American Dad!”) as Moe (ironically, he was born on May 9, 1975, five days after the real Moe passed away); Will Sasso (“Best in Show,” “MADtv”) as Curly; and Sean Hayes (“Will & Grace” TV series) as Larry.
The plot is simple: The trio is abandoned as infants at an orphanage run by various nuns (some in drag). The sisters, including Jane Lynch of “Glee” and Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson, soon grow tired of the bad behavior, which include all of the slapstick the original troupe performed. The three grow up and are forced to earn $830,000 to save the home from foreclosure. Like in many of the old black and white shorts, the bumbling, but good-hearted gang seems to be hopelessly over their heads and in danger of complete failure. However, luck seems to be on their side and they often triumph over the odds (despite themselves).
Here, they run into an old friend from the orphanage, uncover a sinister murder plot and split up over some petty disagreement. This break allows Moe to make an appearance on the “Jersey Shore” program, and these are easily the most hilarious sequences of this movie. To see Moe slapping and punching idiots like Snooky, Mike and Vinnie around almost makes up for the picture’s shortcomings.
True Stoogeaholics will most likely long to be watching one of the original shorts instead of spending time on this one (which is divided into three titled segments). The jokes are clearly stuck in the 1930s while the boys are supposed to exist in the present day. Also, the painful physical humor and aggression that long ago audiences enjoyed may not translate well to modern, politically-correct sensibilities.
I fit somewhere in the middle here. While Diamantopoulos has an amazing resemblance to Moe and Sasso does a pretty good Curly, these are not the real Three Stooges I grew up loving and laughing at. Still, it was not a bad homage to them, either. The Farrelly’s clearly know (and seem to love) their subjects, and certainly no disrespect is shown here, and the supporting cast seems to be having a lot of fun, as well.
A silly disclaimer prologue, however, has the Farrelly’s actually instructing the audience not to imitate the scenes in The Three Stooges. “This hammer is made of rubber, see?,” says Peter. “You should never hit someone in the head with a real hammer.”
Really . . . ?