Upon sitting down to the screening of The Three Stooges, I notice the row in front of me occupied by a multi-generational family of men whose ages ranged seemingly from 25 to 65. Their raucous outbursts of syncopated laughter--which gave true onomatopoeia to the term "guffaw"--would have been unbearably annoying in any other context save for in front of a trio of stooges slapping each other in the face.
It really says something about the perfect storm of male bonding that occurs when nostalgia meets cartoonish violence. I expect it's why the WWE keeps guys like Hogan and Ric Flair fighting steel-cage life-support matches well into the new millennium.
Behind me sat a nine year old boy whose frequent reaction to the on-screen stoogery was a very audible, incredulous comment to his mom, "These guys are idiots..."
There are a few things that every Stooge scholar worries about when they hear that the Farrelly Brothers are directing a Fine-Howard-Fine reboot. This is not to say that the Bros--who have more misses than hits at this point in their careers--are incapable of helming a modern Stoogemobile with the requisite amount of care and nuance that most people don't realize it deserves. But the aforementioned multi-generational gathering in front of me served to illustrate an important aspect of Stooge life--this is a family affair. I don't need to bore you with the Bros's resume for the hellishly scatological, but let's just say their last film I saw (the surprisingly not terrible Hall Pass) showed two human penises (and the joke was that the black guy's was bigger).
Still, if you look at the big picture, you know that there are only so many modern comedy giants who deserve the honor of attempting a necromancy of this magnitude. The McKay gang, the Apatow gang, The Stiller gang... these po-mo big-shots probably don't have the requisite old-fashioned stupidity in their hearts needed to conjur American television's worst plumbers, doctors, artisans of every stripe. The Mel Brooks gang is long retired, and the Leslie Neilson gang disbanded after Les got taken out by the stray bullet from that 33 1/3 poster. No, only the men behind Dumb and Dumber are worthy of paying full-scale tribute to this legendary comedy institution whose whole really embarrasses the sum of its parts (or maybe verse-visa).
But let's get back to that later, I'm sure most of you are more interested to hear how Chris Diamantopoulos, Sean Hayes, and (most importantly) Will Sasso did in their portrayals of Moe, Larry and Curly.
In a word, superb.
These guys really nailed every rhythm, every beat. Every tambre, every stutter. Every snarl, every yelp. And the costumes/bodies/facial-expressions were so on-point, it was like I was watching the original three stooges simply remastered for hi-def.
Chris Diamantopoulos dutifully realized Moe's slave-driver / care-taker dichotomy. If I'm being honest, it's possible he brought more genuine pathos than the original Moses Horrowitz ever did. You can argue whether or not that's a good thing or a bad thing, but I've watched a LOT of Stooges, and this was perhaps my very first time ever caring how a stooge felt inside. (For maybe four seconds, but still).
Sean Hayes (of Will and Grace) was--through no fault of his own--the least spitten image of his Stoogelganger. Still, he was able to thoroughly capture the Larry subtleties. Full disclosure: Larry was always my favorite Stooge. I'm sure there's a Myers & Brigs personality rubric out there that indicates what this says about my sex life. But either way, Larry's stupidity is more clever, his asininity more cerebral, his inanity more unpredictable. Less physical than the other two, our pseudo-straight-man is wordy and neurotic--the old fashioned Jewish comedian of the group. Hayes killed it. His perpetual squint and nasal, whiney, dumbass drawl were music to my ears.
And, oh, Will Sasso! When I first heard he was cast as Curly, I thought it would be slightly off. Sasso isn't quite round enough. He was always chubby, but too tall, too broad-shouldered, too Michael Chiklis from The Commish (who also played Curly in the 2000 made-for-TV biopic). Well, it turns out I am a moron. Because whatever five or ten extra pounds he gained for the roll were nothing compared to the virtuoso facial contortions, like he was channeling the late barking Jerry Horrowitz in some kind of maniacal séance. Obviously Sasso has impersonation skills from his years at Mad TV, but I'm not entirely convinced he hasn't been training for Curley his entire life.
So back to the men behind the camera. How much reverence did they show our patron saints of eye-pokes? There were two good signs right off the bat: a PG rating and a 92 minute run-time. I already discussed that this is a family affair, so the PG rating confirms that--at the very least--they didn't soak our vaudevillians in a Santorum slip-n-slide. As for comedic violence, everything was textbook Stooges. Unrealistic smashes-in-the-face with frying pans, etc etc. An occasional lobster down the pants. Fair trade. Nothing problematically cringe-adelic. The 92 minute run-time is also a sigh of relief, because lets face it: This movie NEEDED to be short.
You'll enjoy a brief stint in Jersey Shore, where Snookie and company are terrorized by Moe's eye-gouging, face-slapping barbarics. Out of context (i.e. to the eyes of the nine year old sitting behind me), this is absurdly unrealistic and about as funny as Larry the Cable Guy farting in the face of Jeff Dunham's Jalepeno on a Stick (which became funnier after I typed it out). But in Stoogeland, setting the boys loose in the modern era is fantastic. The looks on the faces of the Jersey Shore bozos going, "What's this guy's deal?". Pretty hilarious.
[See, no humans with the stooges' personalities ever really existed, even back when they were caricatures of over-enthusiastic, imbecilic gentlemen. Today, even the people they caricature don't exist, which makes them bizarre proto-humans from a bygone era. They're cave-drawings who will be amusing in any modern setting, as long as you are equipped with the context of their celebrity. In this regard, it's almost impossible not to get some post-modern laughs from this flick, even if the original Stooges were never your thing in their own native 1935.]
But the true comedy of The Stooges has always been rooted in two things: 1) The combination of their likability (due to strong work-ethics and virtuous, helpful attitudes) MIXED with unspeakable self mutilation. 2) The unique gadgetry in which said self-mutilation manifests. This second part refers to vintage moments like Curly plumbing himself into a corner, or the "Niagra Falls" trigger for vengeful temporary insanity. This first part is easy, it's all in the characters. It's that second one that the Bros needed to tap into some inner creativity to get the right caliber rube goldberg machine to keep the laughs running for 90 minutes straight. Remember, this isn't Wedding Crashers, we can't get to the third act and decide it's suddenly a serious heartfelt movie. We're allowed maybe two minutes of pathos, and then it's back to lobsters down the pants. [This is why Anchorman was so good. The Action News Team was basically The Four-Stooges set in the 70's. Maybe McKay could have done 'em justice after all...]
So did The Bros manage to create unique gadgets for stupidity and silly brutality throughout the duration of the film? For the most part... yes. You can argue that certain of their devices are way over-done at this point (like ladders, roof-tops and sledge-hammers), but the Bros give them a workable amount of different environments and ammunition to lower IQs at every turn. There was one sequence where they stumble upon a nursery and hold up babies in each others faces to assail one another with infant urination. This was actually a tad funnier than it sounds, but then, nothing about the Stooges would ever sound funny on paper, without each stooge's unique besmirched reactions in real-time.
I'd like to say one final thing about family. When the movie ends, The Farrelly Brothers come on screen to tell kids not to try this at home. I was expecting this to turn into a really snide joke or something vulgar, violent, or tongue-in-cheek. But The Bros just calmly demonstrated that all the items the stooges used to smash each other in the face were made of rubber, and that the blows are enhanced with sound-effects. That was it. The film was over, and the directors had an opportunity to act like they were too cool for school (well, one of them was unnecessarily shirtless, so there's that) but they didn't. They gave a very important safety disclaimer to kids, and did so in good spirits which I took for an air of gratitude. You might be asking, "Who really cares if The Farrelly Brothers treated The Three Stooges with reverence?"
Like I said, it's a family thing.