I’m not sure if the first rule of comedy is that it is always funny when someone falls down but it is the certainly the cornerstone of the career of the Three Stooges. For fifty years they fell down, got back up and, well, fell down again. This weekend they’re back–or at least a reasonable facsimile is–to try and uplift a new generation by falling down.
Directed by the Farrelly Brothers–the twisted minds behind “There’s Something About Mary” and “Dumb and Dumber”–the new film is ninety minutes long, but made up of three short movies, the length of the classic Stooge’s shorts. Part One sees them growing up–and falling down–in an orphanage from childhood to age thirty-five. In Part Two they leave their home to try and raise $830,000 to save the orphanage from foreclosure and wind up involved in a murder plot. Part Three sees Moe joining the cast of Jersey Shore. Seriously.
Well, that’s not true. There’s nothing serious about this movie. It is as silly a film as will be released this year.
Fans of the original Stooges will know what to expect. Lots of hair pulling, face slapping and even three way eye pokes and even though the traditional Stooge pie fight is sadly missing, the slapstick is state of the art thanks to studied performances from Sean Hayes, Chris Diamantopoulos and Will Sasso as Larry, Moe and Curly.
For those unfamiliar with the Stooge oeuvre–a generation that associates poking with facebook and not slapstick–the old school jokes–like a lawyer’s firm called Kickum, Harter, Indagroyne–and the physical humor may seem too silly in the post Apatow world.
But the harmless humor has heart. The Farrellys stress the family connection between the Stooges and even though they whallop the heck out of one another they have genuine affection for each other. That detail makes a great deal of difference.
Remember “Borat”? Offensive and funny it succeeded because the main character’s journey was spurred on by his love of Pamela Anderson. Contrast that with “Bruno.” Same kind of humor but the heart was gone and it failed to connect with audiences.
“The Three Stooges” works because of its soft center and because there is a certain pleasure in watching Moe beat up the “Jersey Shore” kids.
There are some differences between new and old. I doubt the original Stooges would have used Sofía Vergara’s cleavage as a plot device and there’s loads of stunt casting–in addition to the “Jersey Shore” cast there’s the Old Spice Guy and Larry David as a nun named Sister Mary-Mengele–but the Farrellys and a talented cast have expertly reimagined the Stooges anarchy and their heart for a new generation.