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‘The Three Stooges’ Review

Three Stooges
20th Century Fox

“Nyahahahah” – Curly, when he gets nervous. Sometimes Larry and Moe, too.

In a world as big and wonderful as ours, there are different kinds of laughter. There’s the enriching laughter that comes from a shared moment between old friends, and there’s the awkward laughter of a social faux pas. There’s the stoned WTF laughter from a Tim & Eric sketch, and there’s the deep, clever laughter from a droll Comden & Green lyric.

Then there’s the one your mother warned you about – when someone is laughing at you not with you..

Once in a very great while something comes along that perfectly marries these last two, and I can think of little that inspires it with the ferocity of the Farrelly Brothers’ ‘The Three Stooges.’ It is so relentlessly, gleefully and willfully dumb that, even if you are so broken an individual that you refuse to laugh, you will at least watch it in reverence and awe.

It is a rare and curious feeling, peeing your pants over chunkily choreographed mallets to the face because of the very fact of how un-funny it is, then surprising yourself with a genuine laugh from a convention tweak – as though you just received a gift from the comedy Gods for sitting through something this stupid. Truth is, when Larry David’s Sister Mary Mengele got a giant, resonant bell dropped on her head and I cracked up, I experienced something of a zen state from laughing and “laughing” simultaneously.

The story of ‘The Three Stooges,’ such as it is, opens when our three idiot heroes get dumped on an orphanage doorstep. The movie is set in modern day, but for some reason Larry, Curly and Moe grow into bow-tie and suspender-wearin’ kids with 1930s Brooklyn accents, using phrases like “on account of,” resistant to eatin’ veggies or washin’ behind their ears. Years later (when the boy Stooges grow to man Stooges) Monsignor Ratliff (or Senor Rat Lips, nyuk) comes to bring the bad news that the orphanage is going to close. Unless, that is, if someone can come up with close to a million bucks by the end of the month.

Thus, the Stooges go into the world and the hijinks begin in earnest. After an hour and change of coincidences and idiotic plot mechanics, the good guys end up on top. Along the way Larry hitches up the trousers of an urban tough guy, Curly dresses as a nurse and a dolphin shoots a peanut out of its blowhole onto a lion’s scrotum. There’s a massive set piece using urinating babies in a nursery as weapons, plus more puns and sight gags than you can shake a fish with a cigar at. (Smoked salmon, nyuk nyuk.)

The insanity is fierce, the momentum never lets up. This is best exemplified during a chase sequence when the Stooges run onto a roof and run around a flag pole for no reason. Seriously. When there would otherwise be a two-second gag gap, the chased Stooges just run in a circle going “nyahahahaha” for NO REASON and then make nothing of it. You probably won’t even catch it because you’ll either be tired from laughing or already stunned into silence by how moronic this whole escapade is.

Later, when Sofia Vergara’s boob gets smooshed and the sound effect of a car horn blasted I nearly dropped dead.

I suppose the question must be asked, do you like slapstick? Because, if you don’t, you will not like this movie. (Just like if you don’t like martial arts you won’t like ‘The Raid: Redemption‘ and if you don’t like bubblegum pop you won’t like ‘The Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience.’)

I contend, however, that even for those who equate the Stooges with nails on a chalkboard (hi, Mom!) there is a layer of comedy that may still appeal. ‘The Three Stooges” script maintains a tongue cocked-and-ready to go firmly in cheek, but never quite gets there. The scenes of the ragamuffin orphans are played so absurdly straight that it just feels. . .weird. And, surprisingly, fresh. And then, for good measure, just when you aren’t expecting it, a wink to the audience slips out – but to get any more specific would deserve a poke in the eye.

‘The Three Stooges’ isn’t flawless by any stretch of the imagination. There’s a reason the original comics made their names in shorts. This feels about 15 minutes too long. Surprisingly, the much-maligned cameos from the cast of ‘Jersey Shore‘ aren’t that bad, but I agree that tying the film to such a specific pop culture flavor will work against the movie’s longevity. (Frankly, it’s already a two year old gag, no?)

I love the fact that new actors are playing the personas of Moe, Larry and Curly. Will future generations see movies with “Woody Allen” or “Steve Martin” in them long after they are gone? It’s a legit question, but before we get to that, there’s a question about this film that is far more pressing: where the hell was Shemp? Nyahahahahahah.

Review RatingJordan Hoffman was the movies editor at Hearst Digital’s UGO for four years and currently contributes to SlashFilm, MTV’s NextMovie and StarTrek.com. He’s made two marginally successful independent movies, is a member of the New York Film Critics Online and was named IFC’s Ultimate Film Fanatic of the NorthEast in 2004. Follow him on Twitter at @JHoffman6.

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