Like Sherlock Holmes and James Bond, the Three Stooges are bigger than any one movie. They’re bigger than any one villain they’ve interacted with or any one moment of lasting greatness they’ve given us. We fondly remember them not for the specifics but for the broad personalities. More than sixty years after Curly Howard’s stroke ripped apart the classic line-up, nothing about the way they see the world has changed, and there’s something wonderful about that timelessness.
The Farrelly Brothers’ take on the Stooges is more of a karaoke performance than anything else, but then again, so were all the best Three Stooges shorts. Moe, Curly and Larry never worked because they invented original premises or met unique human beings. The comedians took the old tropes seen everywhere else and threw their creations in the middle to gouge eyes, stub toes and nyuk it up. In doing so, they commented on the changing world around them through their beloved characters that never changed. During World War II, the Stooges got a steady dose of dictators and soldiers. It only makes sense they’d now be given reality television personalities to slap around, as well as a classic orphans-save-the-orphanage premise.
The orphanage this time around is run by Mother Superior (Jane Lynch) and Sister Mary-Mengele (Larry David), and the orphans are, of course, Moe (Chris Diamantopoulos), Larry (Sean Hayes) and Curly (Will Sasso). They’re thrown onto the doorsteps as infants, and decades later without having achieved their dream of a family, our heroes are forced to leave the nest to raise more than eight hundred thousand dollars to save their home. The specifics involve rising health care costs, but ultimately, they don’t matter.
What does matter is what they end up finding, or more specifically, the many who’s they meet. The first is the deceitful Lydia (Sofia Vergara), who offers the guys the orphanage money to kill her sick husband. The second, a reality television producer, offers one a job on his hit show, and the third is an orphan named Teddy (Kirby Heyborne) who got out years earlier and became a lawyer. Through misidentifications, sledge hammer blows, inappropriate farts, shotgun blasts and pissing babies, our heroes find redemption, the villains find their comeuppance and everyone heads to CVS for ice packs.
If that all sounds a bit convenient, wacky and low brow, I assure you it is. Clearly enormous fans of the source material, the Farrelly Brothers go to great lengths to prevent anyone from learning any lessons and to prevent the script from getting too intellectual. It’s nothing but rapid fire pratfalls, slaps and puns for ninety-two minutes. Hayes, Diamantopoulos and Sasso all turn in wonderful performances as the three main characters most of us know by heart, and the directors do a fine enough job of coordinating the action in a way that feels like the timing and pacing of the originals. It comes off less like a tribute and more like a slightly below-average episode we might stumble across on television, which is actually kind of impressive.
Unfortunately, all that success doesn’t necessarily make the movie incredibly watchable. The Stooges always worked a bit better in small doses, and not everyone they meet serves as an appropriate foil here. The gags have a nice way of sliding into one another, but after too much screen time, they also have a way of feeling a bit monotonous. Ultimately, without the presence of any brilliant moments, there’s really nothing tangible to take away, except the general warmth and comfort offered by seeing loveable characters. As a friendly bit of nostalgia and an impressive recreation, the film is worth seeing. As a flat-out comedy, it’s mediocre. Three stars sounds about right. Nyuk Nyuk Nyuk.