Wednesday, 12 September 2012


Let's start with the positives, the good stuff: The Three Stooges is laff out loud funny, more than any comedy I've seen in some time (and even moreso for my eight-year old son). If there's one thing the Farrelly Bros. do well (besides demure gross-out—actually the fart in the sinking car is one of the funniest moments of the film) it's slapstick, and the slapstick in this film is first-rate, brilliantly choreographed and executed. They understand that part of the joy of slapstick is the audience's seeing what's coming, the longer before it happens the better. As an aside, my guess is the audience with whom I saw the film needed it to be set-up at lot more clearly than an audience watching the original Stooges in the 1930s would; and an awful lot more clearly than me and my friends did watching them on TV in the 1960s.

So if I laughed so hard, why a week later does the film leave a sort bad taste in my mouth? It's not like I mind the 'plot', which is stitched together from a couple of hoary old chestnuts—'let's save the orphanage' and 'let's kill the husband'--being clunky, nor the progression of gags making no sense. That Curly and Larry sudden appear on a gold course with dozens of salmon, to set up their salmon farm, makes no logical sense, but it doesn't have to. It should, however, set up a gag, rather than being the gag itself. Though I do get the point when Kate Upton finally strips off to become The Leather Nun. Boy do I get it. A great sigh of relief from the dads who hadn't laughed, but another gag gone flat.And therein lies part of the rub.

The Farrellys don't really trust their audience to be able to follow long setups. Indeed, the best gags in the film are recycled from the original Stooges, and done better. But watch the originals, and see how restrained the shooting is, general views, middle-shots, few close-ups. Watch the modern version and everything is bright, and in closeup, which has the effect of making bad actors (especially the children) look worse. It looks two dimensional, moreso because everyone seems to be playing it for laughs. The Stooges' are funnier when everyone else is taking things seriously, and they are the element of chaos amongst the serious. When everyone else is hamming it up, aware they are part of the gag (if not gags themselves) it dilutes the impact of the anarchy. I suspect they may be trying to do something like what Frank Tashlin did with Jerry Lewis—create an almost two-dimensional equivalent of a live-action cartoon, but the Farrellys are not Tashlin and Lewis.

It's most obvious how little faith they have in their audience (and perhaps in their own film) when Moe splits from the others to become part of a reality show. Interestingly, the producers who watched his audition appear not to have noticed the other two Stooges, because they react to them later in the film as if they haven't, but like I said, we can't try to pick logical continuity errors in a film like this. But trying to get a rub from Snooky (not literally—I mean 'rub' in the wrestling sense of getting a boost by performing with someone who's a bigger star) is just insulting. Maybe they're trying to make a satiric point about Jersey Shore being dumber than the Stooges, or as violent, or less real...I don't know and frankly Snooky, I don't give a damn. The only interesting thing is that the Jersey crew are the only ones in the film who play it straight, and would be better straightmen for the Stooges than the professional actors are (with the notable exception of Craig Bierko's fall-guy Mac). I'm still waiting for the payoff on Larry David's Sister Mary Mengele too.

The new Stooges are OK, if not great. They benefit by being younger and fitter than the originals, which helps the slapstick. Sean Hayes tries hard as Larry, but lacks the sad sack futility. Will Sasso is surprisingly good as Curly, but has toned down his aggression considerably, and his woman-chasing. He's nicer; in fact it's as if they're trying to make them all 'people', instead of Stooges. That's even true for Chris Diamantopolis' Moe, though his performance is often mostly wig and voice, most of which appears to have been dubbed for effect; he still has to mug ridiculously, which Moe Howard never really needed to do. I get the feeling that liking the guys makes them less effective as comics—they are supposed to be forces of nature whom it is dangerous to like, the way children were thought to be by all figures of authority.

And speaking of children, although it's funny two glamour guys play the Farelleys at the film's end, it's odd that they do a 'kids don't try this at home' public service announcement, especially since one actor is flexing his chest the whole time, like a WWE wrestler. But everything I said about the dumbing down of the audience is brought home here, when they can't even trust their core viewers to realise what they are watching is the Stooges, not real life. The real Moe Larry and Curly never had to tell me that.

And finally, for virtually every mainstream review that claimed the film was full of 'nyuk nyuk nyuks', the reality is that for all the boffo laffs, which I appreciated, I didn't really hear a decent Curlyesque nyuk, nyuk nyuk anywhere in the film. Kinder, gentler stooges? 'I'll moiderlize ya'.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

I don't have a problem with the PSA at the end of the movie. There were occasions when the original Stooges were "attacked" by fans in public with various items to hit them, because they did not realize that they used props. Also in the movie "Around The World In A Daze", the Stooges point out to their Asian look-a-likes that they don't do the eye poke anymore because it's unsafe for children. At that time in their careers, they were being hounded by parents who thought they were too violent.