I think it’s safe to say that expectations were low for The Three Stooges. The update of the classic comedy trio from the mid-20th century was a passion project for The Farrelly Brothers – their Gangs of New York if you will – but after a decade of (at best) unmemorable motion pictures from the directing pair, the film gave off a certain undeniable stench. The unfortunate trailer, which made the film seem like a low-concept tragedy waiting to happen, didn’t help. I was sitting in the theater, more or less on my hands, praying for mild competence to get me through the evening. Mild competence, I figured, would be a miracle. But now I’m struggling to figure a term bigger than “miracle,” because The Three Stooges is actually an incredibly funny film.
Go ahead and let that sink in for a minute. “The Three Stooges.” “Incredibly funny.” I suspect I’m laying my integrity on the line here, but damn it, everyone in the house seemed to agree with me. The damn thing is a “nyuck” fest from start to finish, with only a few unintentional pauses in between. It seemed like a film designed to prove the nonexistence of God, and yet it turns out that not only does God exist, he has a special place in his heart for Larry, Curly and Moe. After watching The Three Stooges, I can’t quite blame him.
The plot is the standard comedy setup: the Stooges, Larry (Sean Hayes), Curly (Will Sasso) and Moe (Chris Diamantopoulos), are the oldest wards of an orphanage, which needs to raise over $800,000 before it gets shut down at the end of the month. The endearing simpletons go out into the real world to raise the dough, and embark on a series of misadventures that provide ample opportunities to show off the cast’s slapstick abilities. The timing is impeccable, the choreography inspired. The Stooges inhabit a world only once-removed from Toon Town, in which every individual within pummeling distance can and will have heavy objects crash on their heads, fall from great heights, or wind up under a bus somehow. And they will be just fine. Bad people sometimes end up in the hospital, but even then they’re out on their own recognizance with hardly a scratch on them in a fortnight.
Our heroes wind up as hired assassins for a gold digging trophy wife (Sofia Vergara) and her lover (Craig Bierko), who want them to kill her rich husband. Signals get crossed and they get it in their heads that Bierko is their intended target, leading to crazy chases, cross-dressing subterfuge and old fashioned sticks of dynamite. In a vacuum, it all seems downright macabre. The entire plot of The Three Stooges is based on horrific violence that belongs in an installment of Saw, not a PG-rated family film. But the judicious application of wacky sound effects, cartoonish healing properties, and an apparent epidemic of severed nerves (the only explanation I can think of for why no one in the cast can feel pain) make it light and silly. It’s not Lysistrata, but it’ll do.
There’s nothing to The Three Stooges. It’s fluff, devoid of subtext, relying only on an old-fashioned love of pratfalls to keep it going. But go it does, floundering only on occasion (I’m pretty sure the baby urine shootout sequence is the low point), but making it across the finish line to unexpected cheers. It’s hard to quantify comedy, certainly without ruining the joke, so I won’t bother. The Three Stooges is a damned funny film, no matter how bad it looks from a distance. If you don’t like it, you can go “nyuck” yourself.