Of all the movies in 2012, the one I was certain I would least like would be the “re-boot” of the Three Stooges “franchise.” And yet …..
The Farrelly Brothers gave us There’s Something About Mary and several other comedies in the past 15 or 20 years, many of which have been extremely popular, though their last few efforts would seem to indicate they’ve lost their touch. So when I heard that they were going to do a Three Stooges movie, my reaction was along the lines of WTF????
The Stooges reined supreme in the world of slapstick comedy shorts for almost 30 years, making 192 of them (all available on DVD). They were often imitated, never bettered. And the Stooges often represent a dividing line in society – of who likes them vs. who doesn’t – just as much as their films often put them in situations where they were poor schlubs going after rich people. Moe and Larry were constants, the 3rd Stooge changed over the years and that’s another dividing line – Curly vs. Shemp vs. Joe Besser.
The movie came out earlier this year and did zero box office. The 50% rating on Rotten Tomatoes wouldn’t seem to hold much promise. Except that some film critics I respect actually gave it good reviews – particularly Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. ”Thoroughly enjoyable,” she wrote. ”As usual the Farrellys give this movie about as much visual style as you’d find in a Stooges two-reeler, but, as with the original films, you may be too busy watching and laughing at Moe, Larry and Curly to care.”
Okay, I won’t say that I laughed all the way through the 92 minute film, but laugh I did, and once I laughed pretty hard.
The story is old, as it should be. It starts with the 3 of them being dumped into an orphanage as babies, briefly zips forward to adolescence, and then the meat of the film, as their orphanage is threatened with closure and they go out into the world to try to raise money, encountering among others a dolphin, a lion, an extremely hot woman who hires them to kill her husband and the cast of Jersey Shore.
The Stooges are played by Sean Hayes as Larry (you might remember him from the Will & Grace sitcom), Will Sasso as Curly and Chris Diamantopoulos as Moe. They may not look exactly like the original 3 but they’ve got the voices and mannerisms down perfectly.
The supporting cast holds a few surprises, not least of which is Larry David as a nun – Sister Mary-Mengele. There’s also Jane Lynch, Jennifer Hudson, Sofia Vergara, Craig Bierko, Stephen Collins, Brian Doyle-Murray, Kate Upton, Isaiah Mustafa (the guy from the Old Spice ads), the afore-mentioned cast of Jersey Shore and, as the Farrelly Brothers, Antonio Sabato Jr and Justin Lopez.
It shouldn’t work. I’m amazed it even got financed. And I’m even more amazed that I enjoyed it, but I did. There are a few moments when the Farrellys reach beyond merely recreating Stooges situations and come up with set pieces of their own that work more often than not. Sometimes it’s as simple as when one character says, “those three idiots are here” and someone else responds, “The Kardashian sisters?” And it’s pure joy watching Moe treat the cast of Jersey Shore as if they were Larry and Curly. But it’s the bit with the lion and the dolphin, which I won’t spoil for you, that had me in stitches.
There’s nothing here to convert the unconverted. But if you’re a fan of the Three Stooges, this film might well work for you.
Jay and Mark Duplass are also brothers who co-write and co-direct films. Their films are quite different from the Farrelly Brothers films. Their latest is called Jeff, Who Lives at Home and it’s a charmer.
Jeff, played by Jason Segel (who lately cannot do anything wrong), is a 30 year old man-child, living in the basement of his mother’s house, spending most of his time smoking pot and trying to figure out the hidden messages in the M. Night Shyamalan movie Signs. One day he’s watching TV and an ad says, “Pick up the phone, this call could change your life.” At that moment, the phone rings, it’s a wrong number, someone looking for someone named Kevin. Jeff takes that as a sign.
Jeff’s mom, Susan Sarandon, forces him to go out on an errand, and he encounters one Kevin after another, as well as his unhappily married brother Pat (Ed Helms), quite possibly the biggest asshole on the face of the planet.
Things move along at their own pace. Some of it rings true, some of it seems a bit forced, but in the end, when it all works out (as you knew it would), it has its own logic and you find yourself going, “yeah, okay, that made sense.” Segel is terrific, a very quiet but nuanced performance for him. Recommended.