First, the good news: this is a heartfelt homage to The Three Stooges of yore, and its leading actors do a remarkable job of channeling Moe, Larry and Curly. Kids who have never seen the Stooges, and adults who haven’t revisited them lately, may have a good time, as the audience did when I saw the film the other night, but ultimately, the movie is the comedy equivalent of a cubic zirconia: an imitation.
That may well satisfy moviegoers starved for slapstick and sight gags, which we don’t see very much anymore. Bobby and Peter Farrelly, who directed this feature (and wrote it with Mike Cerrone), serve up a heavy dose of straight-up silliness. But in the Age of Irony, the only way they can get away with that is through a re-creation, using the familiar characters of the Stooges and the brand of comedy they purveyed so successfully.
As befits a movie featuring these three, the storyline is simplicity itself: the orphanage where our heroes have been raised is going to be shut down, unless someone can raise $830,000 in a hurry. Moe, Larry and Curly have been sheltered from the outside world, and don’t have any skills except for causing mayhem, but they set out to find the necessary funds (on a bicycle built for three).
None of this would be possible without the inspired and fully-committed performances of Sean Hayes as Larry, Will Sasso as Curly, and Chris Diamantopoulos as Moe (not to mention the kids who play then as ten-year-olds). They never break character or wink at the audience, which is the only way to pull off a stunt like this. Most of the supporting cast gets in the spirit of the piece, as well.
The gags, and Stoogeian wordplay, come off well most of the time; there’s no point in nitpicking the ones that don’t, or complaining about matters of taste, since the real Stooges comedies were often crass and crude.
So why wasn’t I laughing?
Perhaps I’ve spent too many years absorbing the bona fide Stooges—and other slapstick comedies of the period—to accept a replica, however well-intended. I’m happy to see somebody reviving this neglected brand of comedy, but I wish it didn’t involve outright imitation of such indelible performers as Howard, Fine, and Howard.
Or, to put it another way, a really good cover band is still a cover band. I’m reminded of the original ads for the show Beatlemania: “Not the Beatles, but an amazing simulation!” In this case, we aren’t dealing with live performance; the real Stooges are alive and well, on film. Why not reissue some of their best comedies and put them back on the big screen instead of settling for a Xerox copy?