Peter and Bobby Farrelly’s long-threatened The Three Stooges rehash is stupid, sloppy, patchy, poorly filmed and relentlessly lowbrow. In other words, a success. Moe, Larry and Curly (plus Shemp and the other, largely interchangeable Curly replacements) are the dark horses of Vaudeville-bred screen comedy, but that’s their charm: their lowest common denominator aim, their lack of craft. Similarly, the charm of the Farrelly’s mock-Stooge feature is how lovingly and almost alienatingly accurate it is. The Farrellys not only bring back the sound effects and even—best of all—the jarringly obvious edits during particularly gruesome stunts, but they also bring back the asinine humor, the absurdist violence and the occasional desperately topical gag. Perhaps the original Stooges would never have stooped to include the Jersey Shore cretins, but surely we can all agree there’s some pleasure in seeing Snooki et al. smacked around and treated to a cheese grater.
They even found three actors whose impersonations are close to spot-on. Benicio Del Toro, Sean Penn and a fat Jim Carrey was the plan at one point, but their popularity would have been too distracting. Relative lesser knowns fit more comfortably in these outsized shoes. Chris Diamantopoulos may be too thin for Moe, but he fares the best: he scrunches his face, tightens his shoulders and nails Moe’s motor patter. Will Sasso finds his own sweet personality while employing Curly’s arsenal of nyuks and baby squeals, while Sean Hayes’ Larry mostly fades into the action, which is as it should be. Together they shuffle through a faithfully half-assed plot, trying to save an orphanage—a tale on loan from the Blues Brothers—while fending off Sofía Vergara’s murderous femme fatale.
It’s not perfect, and not just in the intentional sense. A urine scene lasts a small eternity and the Farrellys have trouble cramping their sentimental streak. Genuine emotion and syrupy strings have no place in the Stoogeiverse, but they throw in a dying kid anyway, and even briefly break up the band over hurt feelings. Annoying concessions abound, including a powerfully lame post-film PSA reminding dim children not to hit one another with hammers as well as walk-ons from modern life (iPhones, baggy pants). But most of The Three Stooges, happily, operates in a time warpy bubble, where bad puns and people getting plowed in the head with weights are on-their-face funny (because they are). Granted, this is more a noble, weird experiment than a stand-alone product, but there are stretches where it really cooks, and a franchise would at least allow the makers to iron out some kinks. Still, The Three Stooges is not very good, but it’s not very good in (mostly) the right ways.