Not many in your typical cinema audience will remember The Three Stooges first time round. It’s 47 years since the last feature film made by Larry, Moe and Curly Joe, so the Farrelly brothers’ affectionate tribute needs more than nostalgia to make it work.
Directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly set out their slapstick stall with Dumb and Dumber in 1994 and Kingpin in 1996, before getting less dumb in 1998 with There’s Something About Mary. It’s still a big jump to trying to recreate the very physical comedy of the Stooges but compared to many modern, unfunny film comedies this has some classic moments, visual and verbal.
First, the casting is perfect. Maybe anyone with a crazy wig could look a bit like the central trio but Chris Diamantopoulos as Moe, Will Sasso as Curly, and Sean Hayes as Larry do more than look the part.
It gets off to a great start with Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Larry David playing a nun, Sister Mary-Mengele (a name that’s the edgiest thing in the whole movie), at an orphanage where sports are a bit limited – “Put the football can back in the equipment box”. Then the Mother Superior is played by Jane Lynch (Sue Sylvester in Glee), when a bag containing three babies (complete with trademark haircuts) is thrown on the orphanage steps.
Ten years on and the nuns are desperate to find adoptive parents for the three boys (played by Skyler Gisondo, Robert Capron and Lance Chantiles-Wertz). Moe’s reluctance to leave without his brothers costs him his chance to live with rich lawyer Harter (Stephen Collins) – from the law firm Kickham, Harter and Indagroyne – and his wife (Carly Craig). Years later, with the nuns having aged not a bit, the Three Stooges are still at the orphanage, working as handymen, but with an accident record that’s part of the reason for a threat to close the orphanage.
That’s illustrated by an attempt to remove the bell from the tower – a power saw cuts rungs on the ladder, the bell falls and hits Sister Mary, and the sledgehammer comes into its own. It’s one of several “cartoon violence” routines that, presumably to satisfy the censors for a PG certificate, needs an appearance by the Farrelly brothers (played by actors) at the end to show how the eye-poke works and how rubber hammers plus metallic sound effects means “Don’t do this at home, kids”.
To save the orphanage, the Stooges head for town – they’ve never been in the real world – and find themselves embroiled in a murder plot. It’s enough of a storyline to keep the gags going, as Mac (Craig Bierko) and Lydia (Sofía Vergara) think they’ve found the ideal people to dispose of Lydia’s husband Teddy (Kirby Heyborne) – for just enough money to pay off the orphanage debts.
Larry and Curly fall out with Moe; they try their hand at farming but misunderstand the concept of a salmon farm (don’t try this at home), while Moe ends up as a star of reality TV show Jersey Shore. Real reality invades with Bobby Farrelly’s son Jesse playing a gang member whose sagging trousers Larry helpfully pulls up – Jesse died in February from a drugs overdose at the age of 20.
Jennifer Hudson plays Sister Rosemary and gets to sing This Little Light of Mine – not for long – and has a part in a song played over outtakes toward the end of the credits. There are plenty of other nods to the “outside world” but the essence of the film is to take us into the Stooges’ world, where they are “pure of heart, but dim of wit”.