Review: 'Three Stooges' one long poke in the eye

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A little nyuk-nyuk-nyuk goes a long way in "The Three Stooges," Peter and Bobby Farrelly's feature-length homage to the classic slapstick comedy trio.

The Farrelly brothers have wanted to make this movie for years, and for the most part they didn't try to inflict their signature gross-out sensibility upon known and revered source material. Yes, there is a scene in which Moe, Larry and Curly get into a urine fight by pointing naked newborns at each other in a maternity ward. And Curly does pass some major gas, but it's actually relevant from a plot perspective.

As directors and writers (with screenplay help from their boyhood friend Mike Cerrone), the Farrellys have shown surprising restraint. Their "Three Stooges" is sweeter than you might expect, and it's certainly more tolerable than their last movie, the crass "Hall Pass" from last year.

But it's hard to imagine who the film is for today beyond hardcore fans of the original shorts and 10-year-old boys who double over giggling at the sight of grown men doubling over in pain. Despite its brisk pace and brief running time and even with its episodic structure — the film is broken up into three individual episodes with a through line that unites them — "The Three Stooges" grows very old, very quickly.

There are a few cute ideas, though, and some clever casting choices. Every once in a while a pun is good for a chuckle. But the head-bonking and the eye-poking, the face-slapping and the finger-snapping and the constant clang of sound effects are too much to bear over an extended period of time. If anything, the Farrellys' "Three Stooges" might make you want to go back and revisit the original threesome — in short doses — for a reminder of how influential their brand of comedy has become.

These adventures take place in the present day, though, as Larry ("Will & Grace" star Sean Hayes in a wild wig), Moe (Chris Diamantopoulos of "24" and "The Kennedys") and Curly (Will Sasso of "MADtv") are still living at the orphanage where they were dumped as infants, despite the fact that they're now grown men in their mid-30s. That is one amusing gag: As time passes, different actors play the threesome at various ages, but the nuns who raised them stay exactly the same. And these three actors are doing nearly dead-on impressions of Larry Fine and Moe and Curly Howard, rather than going in a knowing, post-modern direction with the characters.

Jane Lynch, in a departure from her famous snark, plays the kindly Mother Superior; Larry David is a sight to behold as her sidekick, the cranky Sister Mary-Mengele (she's essentially Larry David in a nun's habit). One day they inform the Stooges and the other orphans that their home will be shut down if they can't come up with $830,000 in the next month.

And so our intrepid (and naive) trio ventures out into the big, wide world, a place they've never seen before, to try and raise the money. Fish-out-of-water antics, some hurt feelings and massive bodily injuries ensue. (The Farrellys did this better back in 1996 with Randy Quaid as an innocent, Amish bowling prodigy who goes on a cross-country tour in "Kingpin.")

They get mixed up with a femme fatale (Sofia Vergara) who hires them to kill her rich husband so that she can run away with her lover; naturally, this does not go nearly as planned. (On a side note: It would be nice to see Vergara play a character besides a saucy temptress once in a while.)

Attempts at contemporizing the Stooges are hit-and-miss — the reality show they stumble onto is just cringe-inducingly awkward — but they're "soitenly" never mean. And that's sayin' somethin'.

"The Three Stooges," a 20th Century Fox release, is rated PG for slapstick action violence and some rude and suggestive humor including language. Running time: 91 minutes. Two stars out of four.

___

Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:

G — General audiences. All ages admitted.

PG — Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

PG-13 — Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.

R — Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

NC-17 — No one under 17 admitted.

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