With Sean Hayes, Chris Diamantopoulos, Will Sasso, Jane Lynch, Larry David. Written by Mike Cerrone and Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly. Directed by Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly. Rated PG (for slapstick action violence, some rude and suggestive humor including language). 95 minutes.
Alright, let’s start by giving credit where credit is due. The three actors playing Moe, Larry and Curly in this recreation of THE THREE STOOGES do a credible job of mimicry. There’s a certain lack of definition in Chris Diamantopoulos’s face as Moe and Will Sasso is a little too tall as Curly, but they – and Sean Hayes as Larry – manage to pull off the signature moves and gags. The actors did what was required.
However, brothers Bobby and Peter Farrelly, who directed and worked on the script with Mike Cerrone, did not. This is a movie that has no reason for being except for the fact that the Farrellys, who haven’t come up with a decent film in more than a decade, love the Stooges and made this their dream project. While they capture the extreme slapstick, they don’t seem to really know anything at all about what made the original comedy shorts work.
The movie is set up as if it were three of those shorts, the first one showing them as little boys left at a Catholic orphanage. Of course, in real life Moe and Curly Howard (born Moses and Jerome Horwitz) and Larry Fine (born Louis Feinberg) were Jewish. It may not have been part of their act, but neither was being Catholic. The Mother Superior is played by Jane Lynch (“Glee”), but more surprising is a testy nun played by Larry David, named Sister Mary-Mengele. You know, named after Josef Mengele, the notorious Nazi war criminal who conducted human experiments in the death camps. Are you laughing yet?
The plot, if it can be called that, has the boys – now grown up but still living at the orphanage – promise to raise the $830,000 the facility needs to avoid being shut down. They get caught up in a bizarre plot by Lydia (Sofía Vergara) to hire the Stooges to murder her husband. The laughs just keep coming, eh? At one point Moe is asked to appear on “Jersey Shore,” and the cast of modern-day Stooges, including Snooki, join the fray.
“The Three Stooges” is a movie without any real reason to exist. It’s not like audiences were demanding that actors reincarnate dead film comedians. (The failure of the mercifully little-seen 1999 movie “The All-New Adventures of Laurel & Hardy in ‘For Love or Mummy’” should have been warning enough.) Where a biography of the Stooges might have been interesting, and allowed for the recreation of some of their comic bits, pretending they’ve come back to life unchanged borders on the ghoulish. The Farrellys can’t seem to decide if these are Stooges for modern times or emerging from another era, and so they are selectively baffled by things like iPhones but not microwave ovens.
“The Three Stooges” is doubly sad. It not only fails to bring the Stooges back to life, it similarly fails to do the same thing for the Farrellys’ career. Once on the cutting edge of film comedy with “There’s Something About Mary,” this retro-failure shows that time has truly passed them by.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.