By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A hammer to the noggin, a two-fingered poke in the eyeballs, a yank at the nostril, then a hard, loud slap across the face.

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We must be in Stooge country!

Those of us who grew up celebrating silliness and stupidity by watching the Three Stooges on the little screen (and let’s face it — it was a formative experience) eventually outgrew them.

(2 stars out of 4)

Now we’re… gulp… grownups.

And here, thanks to the Farrelly brothers, they are again — on the big screen.

For those of us (ahem) who used to be addicted to the havoc-wreaking threesome, here’s a film to make all the ex-Stoogeaholics nostalgic and embarrassed at the same time.

As I said, ahem.

The Three Stooges is a goofy, unashamedly childish, PG-rated slapstick comedy based on, and as a cockeyed homage to, the acquired-taste series of short subjects that featured Moe and Curly Howard and (localite) Larry Fine as lifelong bumbling buddies in sweet-natured, bloodless physical abuse and no-hard-feelings, limb-threatening assault.

This isn’t a biography — far from it — but a trio of new episodes that share a running narrative in the Stooges’ inimitable style, but set in the present day and in color.

The plot?  As adults, Moe (Chris Diamantopoulos), Larry (Sean Hayes), and Curly (Will Sasso), having been abandoned as kids, try to raise money in hopes of saving their childhood orphanage from bankruptcy and foreclosure.

But the plot plays a distant second fiddle to the orgy of whacks, wallops, smacks, punches, gouges, kicks, yanks, and pinches they foist on one another, with one of them administering a lot Moe than the other two.

And let’s not forget all the groanworthy puns, which might just get the heartiest chuckles.

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While coming to the aid of the Mother Superior (Jane Lynch), Sister Rosemary (Jennifer Hudson), and Sister Mary-Mengele (Larry David — yes, that Larry David), the triumvirate of grownup foundlings find themselves involved in an attempted murder planned by Sofia Vergara and Craig Bierko and involved with a certain TV reality series set at the Jersey shore.

Directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly (There’s Something About Mary; Dumb & Dumber; Kingpin; Me, Myself & Irene; Fever Pitch; Shallow Hal; The Heartbreak Kid), who also produced and co-wrote with Mike Cerrone, do seem to have had a genuine lifelong affection for these characters and their legacy.  But they put far too much faith in the one-dimensional material.

Still, when you go the anything-for-a-laugh route, unless there’s no sense of humor at play at all, you’re going to snare a number of major yuks. And the film does that.

But a little of the Stooges’ sadomasochistic slapstick goes a long way.  And this feature-length helping is perhaps three times as long as it ought to be.

There’s a reason why the boys trafficked in shorts.  (In addition, that is, to the ones they were wearing.)

No one’s going to confuse The Three Stooges with a transcendent movie anytime soon, but the Farrellys do capture and reproduce the anarchic spirit and uninhibited essence of the Stooges — soitenly and poifectly, as the Stooges would put it — and remind us why they had such a hold on some of us in decades past.

The three leads are expert mimics — especially Hayes, best known for TV’s “Will & Grace.”  They acquit themselves admirably, even if our thoughts do occasionally wander back to those intriguing early casting rumors: that the leads would be played by Benicio Del Toro (Moe), Sean Penn (Larry), and Jim Carrey (Curly).   Hmm…

There’s even a “Kids, don’t try this at home” postscript warning offered before the closing credits, lest any young viewers attempt to practice Stooge-like aggression on their younger siblings and thus motivate mom and dad to pursue a lawsuit.

Anyway, we’ll nyuk-nyuk 2 stars out of 4.  The Two Farrellys squeeze and stretch The Three Stooges into one long, lower-than-lowbrow, live-action cartoon.


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