The Three Stooges Movie Review
Does LaughingMan, an avid Three Stooges fan, think that the 2012 film delivers on the nyucks, or is it a painful poke in the eye?
The Three Stooges, one of the most timeless American comedy acts, is a property that movie studios have been patiently salivating to exploit since May 5, 1975*. Almost everyone knows of the classic exploits of Larry, Curly and Moe, and whether or not you enjoy their brand of comedy violence is a matter of personal tastes. Like most who enjoy the classic short subject films featuring the slapstick trio, I was introduced to my first Three Stooges experience as a child where the seed germinated and grew into a lifelong appreciation for the work of Moses Horwitz (Moe), Jerome Horwitz (Curly) and Larry Fine (you’ll never guess who…). I ask people who express their ‘distaste’ for The Three Stooges what it is that turns them off, and most dismiss the cartoon violence as low-brow humor involving three idiots slapping each other and hitting one another with solid objects. Meanwhile, references to other classic comedy teams like Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Charlie Chaplain and the Marx Brothers often surface in their (in my opinion) grossly oversimplified view of classic Three Stooges comedy. I don’t doubt that movies with the Marx Brothers or Charlie Chaplain are more refined and witty compared to The Three Stooges, but I refuse to dismiss my favorite three numbskulls as simply low-brow comedy for a number of reasons.
First and foremost, The Three Stooges have always been excellent Chaos Comedies, where a seemingly ordinary event seems to spiral further and further into chaos with the arrival of the three good-intentioned, but completely inept, characters, proving Murphy’s Law which states that “anything that can go wrong will go wrong”… Horribly wrong. Some great examples of their Chaos Comedies include the classic Three Stooges shorts, Disorder in the Court, and especially A Plumbing We Will Go. Secondly, Three Stooge shorts are traditionally witty in a very subtle way. Not only are characters like Larry good at dishing out amusingly goan-worthy puns, but it’s a lot of the background elements that shine, especially names and signs along the lines of “The Law Offices of Dewey, Fleecum and Howe” or “Hotter & Nell Heating Co”. Thirdly, a lot of the dialogue is absurdly hilarious and, like any good joke, relies on the art of misdirection. A fine example is if Moe and Larry were to use poor Curly’s head as a battering ram to knock down a door: After a few swings Curly would scream, “Stop! You’re squeezing my ankles too tight!”
While The Three Stooges never had the emotional depth of Charlie Chaplain, or the cutting wit of Groucho Marx, and they never truly revolutionized comedy as a whole, for the few minutes that they appeared in a short subject film they made people laugh, including myself. There wasn’t the need to pad out a 90 minute movie with complex plots, love interests between secondary characters, and, God forbid, some unknown starlet getting to play ‘talent show’ in the spotlight for five painstaking minutes of screen time (see early films featuring the Three Stooges, like Soup to Nuts or Dancing Lady, or even their 1959-1965 movies for examples of padding), and while select Stooge shorts did feature singing and dancing, audiences were still treated to a more concentrated product where the 10 minute length of the short movie consisted of a paper-thin plot, usually an abrupt and absurd ending, and some of the funniest moments in film history, earning their rightful place in Americana history and in the hearts of millions.
And then there was that fateful day when I saw the trailer for the upcoming 2012 The Three Stooges movie…
I, like millions of other Three Stooges fans, cringed at the thought of three Stooge look a likes conversing with nuns in bikinis, making lame iPhone jokes, and hanging with the cast of Jersey Shore. And I made my opinions well heard in The Silver Screen Podcast. I was no less appalled as I was outraged at what appeared to be a cheap Three Stooges cash-grab from a movie industry that relies on converting comic books and children’s toys into big budget Hollywood blockbusters. I ranted, and I raved, and I vowed to boycott this movie… Until I watched the trailer a second time and noticed that the actors filling the shoes of the immortal slapstick comedy trio were not only looking the part, but ACTING the part. The mannerisms, the facial expressions, rehashes of famous Three Stooges skits, and even the voices were all uncanny, as if the actors actually CARED about the characters, nay the people that they were portraying. So I investigated further.
After learning that The Three Stooges was directed by the Farrelly Brothers, who have had their hands in writing/directing/producing some better comedies of the 90s and 2000s like Kingpin, Me Myself and Irene, There’s Something About Mary, and of course the brilliantly idiotic Dumb and Dumber, my faith was slightly renewed in this film. I was never expecting it to be a deep, fantastic film, or for the film to revolutionize comedy, but if it followed in the footsteps of Dumb and Dumber it’d be something that I had decided that I’d be willing to give a chance.
And in the end, I enjoyed it immensely.
The story, divided into three ‘acts’ (a tribute to the original short subject films), begins when the three boys, Larry, Curly and Moe, are dropped off at an orphanage… and by ‘dropped off’ I mean thrown out of a moving car. As the nuns show their adornment over the three babies, the film fast forwards to the age of 10 when the three are terrorizing the orphanage with their idiocies, and the three ultimately fail at ever being adopted. Flashing forward yet again, Larry (Sean Hayes), Curly (Will Sasso), and Moe (Chris Diamantopoulos) are grounds keepers and handymen at the very same orphanage, but now the only home that they’ve ever known is on the verge of financial ruin through reasons revealed later in the film. In a last ditch effort to raise the $830,000 to save their home, and the home of the nuns and children that they care about, they take to the streets to earn money, preferably a job that requires little labor and even less intelligence. Along the way the trio has multiple misadventures that are best left as unspoiled as possible, but all of which pay homage to classic Three Stooges moments. However, these homages never copy them exactly, making each skit feel relatively fresh for even the most seasoned Stooge fan.
One other thing I’d like to point out, as I did in the Silver Star Podcast about 2012 movies, is that I’m a Three Stooges fan. I’ve watched all of the remastered shorts and even a few of their feature films more than probably three times each by now, I’ve read a few of their biographies, and even suffered the ABC television biopic. The actors that portray the Stooges (Sean Hayes, Chris Diamantopoulos, and Will Sasso) are nothing short of convincing as Larry, Moe and Curly, and their performances sell the movie. Hayes, Sasso, and Diamantopoulos so accurately recreated the original Three Stooge’s speech patterns, expressions, and mannerisms that at times I found myself forgetting that I was watching a remake or a recreation.
Until I winced at a few of the ‘updated’ jokes that, while along the lines of Stooge comedy, really didn’t translate well. There is a scene in the movie where the wealthy acquaintance of Moe, Larry and Curly, Ted, has the trio gather around for a group photo via his iPhone device (product placement!). Curly (Sasso) holds the device to his eye and answers it like a normal telephone. Not only is it a joke that not even the original Three Stooges could save, but it is one of the many scenes that are so ‘out of time’ when compared to what I am used to seeing from the original Stooges. It’s a scene that stands out like a sore thumb and breaks my suspension of disbelief to such an extent that the iPhone may have well had been a flying unicorn. And along the same topic of ‘out of time/out of place’ moments, I have to go into the appearance of the ENTIRE Jersey Shore cast, whose presence contributes nothing of value to the film as a whole, in my opinion. Some have drawn comparisons to Jersey Shore being a modern Three Stooges style of series where idiocy and fighting is glorified, but in my eyes it’s an example of a movie’s need for ‘star power’ gone terribly awry. While the Jersey Shore segments (as brief as they are in the scope of the movie as a whole) do contribute towards resolving the paper thin plot of The Three Stooges, their presence and role in the movie could have been easily substituted with… well, just about anything, really. The Jersey Shore moments in the movie are fairly brief, and really unnecessary, but you get to see Moe beat the shit out of them, beating them with hammers, ripping out their nose hair, and even shoving one of their heads in a microwave, so in that respect it was sadistic fun.
However there was one scene from the notorious trailers that was cut from the film: The scene where model Kate Upton, who played a small part as a nun in the orphanage earlier in the movie, emerges from a pool wearing the black, lacy, and racy “nun-kini”. Almost immediately after the trailer’s debut, the Catholic League, an anti-defamation organization, raised hell about the disrespectful portrayals of nuns, most notably Kate Upton’s nun bikini, but also heavily upon Larry David’s character, the relentlessly bitter Sister Mary-Mengele, with the name ‘Mengele’ a nod to Nazi Auschwitz SS Officer Joseph Mengele. Oddly enough, the nun bikini scene was taken out of the movie, but the highly offensive Nazi-referencing name was kept off the cutting room floor, and not even so much as redubbed. We now know where priorities lie.
The Three Stooges is not an amazing piece of comedy, but it is extremely faithful to the short subject films of the 1930s through late 1940s. The plot, centered mostly around the plot of the home console video games (NES, Playstation, etc), is similarly structured around classic Stooge short elements like creating chaos among the upper-crust and high society, getting hired to do odd jobs after panhandling on the streets (walking boards included), inadvertently stumbling upon crimes and saving the day, and especially a terribly abrupt and bizarre ending. The special effects also harken back to the glory days of the original Three Stooges with the obvious use of quick cuts, film speedups and reversals, wires, and especially the use of terrible rag doll dummies for high falls and dangerous physical abuse stunts in general. It looks terribly low tech, aside from one moment where the painfully obvious stunt dummies are thrown over a wall and then seamlessly spliced into the real-life actors picking themselves off of the ground. It was bad enough seeing convincing actors act out of time with iPhones and Jersey Shore, that it would have been even more out of place if modern effects and CGI were heavily implemented in this film. I felt that their use was not only an appropriate nod to the classic shorts of the 30s and 40s, but necessary to maintain the illusion of the three actors being the very actors that they were imitating.
Having received some feedback from a few friends regarding their thoughts of The Three Stooges, I feel that ultimately the movie shares the same under appreciated comedy status as Monty Python’s Meaning of Life, where everyone feels that the movie isn’t that funny until you begin asking them about particular segments. I cornered one friend by asking what her favorite funny moments were, and she listed only three until I asked her thoughts on some of the other laugh-out-loud moments that I vividly remembered, and her reply was often, “Oh yeah, I laughed at that part, too.” While some people may not enjoy Stooge comedy, or they may have a bad impression overall, I’ve managed to get almost everyone to admit that they not only enjoyed several scenes in the Three Stooges movie, but that it made enough of an impression that they easily remembered a lot of the films jokes. And overall isn’t that what a good comedy is supposed to do? What The Three Stooges has against it is that it’s a similar situation with the Farrelly Brother’s previous hit, Dumb and Dumber, where you either did or did not like the overly stupid humor, but despite your experience there are always a few scenes that made you laugh.
But past the “so stupid it’s hilarious” humor that some people might not care for, there was one tear-jerker moment in the movie that should make almost anybody’s eyes swell up, fan of the Three Stooges or not. Harkening back to the beginning of the movie and the secret reason why Moe, Larry and Curly were never adopted, the events of that scene come back and crash on Moe’s shoulders after a particularly violent and well choreographed fighting frenzy. At that moment, Moe bites his tongue while Larry and Curly finally part ways with him. The only people that Moe has in the entire world, the two friends for whom he had sacrificed everything for, leave him, alone, in the dark. It’s a powerful scene mostly due to Chris Diamantopoulos’ (Moe’s) fantastically remorseful expression as he watches his two best friends walk out of his life.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised that the film was no where near as cringe-worthy as the trailer made it out to be. Sean Hayes, Chris Diamantopoulos, Will Sasso fit perfectly into their respective roles, perfectly capturing the mannerisms, vocal patterns, and humor, ultimately selling the entire movie on their performances alone. The comedy itself is reminiscent to classic Three Stooges skits, but there are a few groan moments, none of which derail the movie as a whole. The Three Stooges is light on plot, but it’s a very good comedy where (like Dumb and Dumber) the misadventures on a normally simple journey that makes up the film. Ultimately, The Three Stooges is an enjoyable family movie, and a pleasant experience for fans of slapstick comedies. However, it is not a comedy for everyone, and just as there is an audience for this brand of humor, there will be those who will feel that this ‘low-brow’ comedy is a waste of their time. If you are not a fan of The Three Stooges, and if you despised the movie Dumb and Dumber, you would probably be better spending your money elsewhere.
*May 4, 1975 is the day that Moses Horwitz (Moe Howard), the last surviving member of the original Three Stooges comedy team passed away. The last member of The Stooges to pass away was Joe DeRita on July 3, 1993.