The Farrelly Brothers have been struggling to get a Three Stooges movie made for years and while the project’s far from dead, right now no one seems to know for sure when it’ll happen or if it does happen, who will be in it. Jim Carrey, Sean Penn, Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro, and Paul Giamatti have all at one point or another been rumored to be locked in as Stooges. Right now Sean Penn as Larry, Benicio del Toro as Moe, and Jim Carrey as Curly is the most likely cast, but we’re not here to talk about who’s it in it, we’re here to talk about The Three Stooges script sitting in front of me on my desk.
When the movie finally gets made, this is the screenplay the Farrellys are planning to use. Written by Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly, and Mike Cerrone, this Three Stooges script is Stooges through and through. It has all the right rhythms, the right gags, the right amount of gratuitous violence. The Stooges have had a monumental influence on comedy and it incorporates ideas from the people the Stooges have influenced too. There’s a full range of wildly different Stooges inspired comedic ideas from Dumb & Dumber to ¡Three Amigos! to The Family Guy (Seth MacFarlane actually has a critical role in the film, playing himself no less). The script manages not just to duplicate the things the Stooges used to do, but it resurrects the Three Stooges method and puts it in a modern setting. Because of that, maybe you won’t like it if you’re not already a Stooges fan. Maybe you’ll think it’s just a bunch of farts, but here, they’re really creative farts. The Three Stooges contains farting like you’ve never seen before.
It starts with the Stooges as kids and if there’s a clear weak spot in this script it’s the film’s introduction. When we meet them the Stooges are babies left in a sack with a bunch of nuns at an orphanage, and it’s only a microsecond before one of the Stooge babies pulls off a trademark Stooge gag. Frankly, it’s pretty lame. It gets even lamer as the babies get older, and for some inexplicable reason the script has all these out of place, special effects gags worked in while the Stooge orphans run around terrorizing nuns. For starters the script makes it pretty clear that the adult actors who play the adult Stooges will also play Larry, Moe, and Curly as kids. Specifically it suggests they’ll use “FX to miniaturize them and tweak their voices”. Worse the Stooges over the top, childhood gags are directed to be computer enhanced. I’m not sure why, they don’t seem to need it.
Luckily once the script gets past that childhood intro, it really takes off. The tendency towards special effects gags in place of straight up, slapstick comedy is dropped and the boys get down to the business of smacking each other around, fighting, and generally screwing up. Larry, Moe, and Curly are the Stooges here. There’s no mention of Shemp or any of the other replacements who drifted in and out through the years. It’s the holy Stooge trinity. The plot involves a race to save the orphanage which has been their home for thirty years. The nuns are in debt and so Larry, Moe, and Curly set out into the world to earn the money they need.
At first their plan mainly involves standing on a street corner with a sign offering their vaguely defined services for an outrageous sum. This gets them hired as assassins for reasons which only sort of make sense. A woman and her boyfriend want her husband dead and so they convince the Stooges to do it through trickery. This soon backfires and launches the Stooges into a strange adventure together and briefly on separate journeys to different places. It lands one of them on a reality television program, another takes up farming, and the other just sort of wanders around and whimpers. That’s really all I can tell you without spoiling everything. Start guessing.
What’s important is how clearly defined Larry, Moe, and Curly are. They’re written as if they’ve just stepped out of one of their 1940s shorts and onto the page. The world around them is modern and in theory so are they, but much of the time it’s like they’re living in the 40s and don’t seem to notice that everyone else isn’t. The movie never mines this for humor or directly addresses it. It’s a subtle thing really, a simple their fact of existence, a weird side effect which only seems to make the movie’s other gags even funnier. It’s more a product of the reverence the Farrellys have for the characters themselves than any attempt to go retro. Like us, they’ve clearly had these people burned into their heads, and know that a Stooges movie isn’t a Stooges movie unless those three appear as they’ve always been in it.
The closest the script’s writers come to contemporizing Larry, Moe, and Curly is in the way they’ve managed to gross up their gags. While the Stooges aren’t exactly known for scatological humor the Farrelly Brothers are and they’re more than happy to bring that element into the Stooges universe. Yet they do it in a way that I think would have made the Howards proud. You get the sense that if the boys could have gotten away with it back in the 40s, they would have done it exactly like this. They couldn’t and so they threw pies at each other when what maybe they really wanted to shoot each other with urine squirting babies. While almost every other classic Stooges move you can think of made it into the Farrelly Brothers script, the classic banana cream pie fight does not. It’s been replaced by an incredibly sick pee battle and, you know what, it kind of works. What they’ve done is modernize some of the props, without really modernizing the sense of humor. It’s the same Stooge gags, the same Stooge sensibility, but with a few Farrellys fluids.
There are times, however, when the script feels as if the whole thing’s on the verge of going too far into Farrelly territory. There’s a character without an upper lip for instance, who lacks an upper lip mainly because the Farrelly boys probably think it’s funny to have someone with a deformity in their movie. The fact that there’s running gag involving very specific commentary on a since cancelled reality show worked into the story is a little strange too (even if it’s kind of hilarious).
Most of the time the script is Farrelly free and flat out Stooges. It’s all there, the eye-pokes, the silly name gags, the trademark insults. Moe rules the trio with an iron fist, which frequently impacts with Curly’s equally iron head. When Moe’s out of the picture Larry tries to step in to dispense Curly discipline but in a hilarious scene we quickly learn he just can’t slap him around like Moe can. Some of it even transcends slapstick and scat humor, though as a Stooges movie it probably didn’t have to put forward the effort. It does anyway. In particular there’s a hilarious sequence in which Larry attempts to start a solo career which should have people rolling in the aisles. Every Stooge has his day and the movie finds the right balance between keeping them together and breaking them apart briefly so each can shine on his own.
On paper at least, The Farrellys have really pulled it off. Will it appeal to anyone who’s not already a Three Stooges fan? I don’t know. It’s ridiculous slapstick, over the top cartoon violence, and as much feces flinging as the MPAA’s censors can possibly stomach. It’s a live-action Looney Tunes Cartoon for adults who haven’t really grown up. Throw in some kung fu and it could easily be a Stephen Chow film. Much like the Stooges themselves, that’s just not for everyone. Fans though, are sure to be ecstatic. This is The Three Stooges movie you’ve been waiting for. Cross your fingers and hope The Farrellys get it done.
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