Few comic acts from the golden age of movies and television were as funny as The Three Stooges.
They were the clowns of classic cinema. From the mid-1930s until the 1950s, their famed shorts kicked off movie matinees and evening features. When TV grew really popular, their shorts began showing up there. In 1960, I remember begging my mom to let us have cable TV so I could regularly watch this funny new act.
Mom laughed. Said no to the cable, then blew my mind when she told me Moe, Larry and Curly were icons from her childhood.
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I guess funny is funny no matter what age. I was a projectionist at a Portland, Ore., theater in my late teens and assigned to run an old Charlie Chaplin movie, The Circus. It was done in 1928. On a Saturday afternoon, I showed the movie to a packed auditorium of kids and adults. The laughter was so loud I could hear it up in the projection booth.
Humor is timeless. When something is funny, it’s funny.
That brings us to Peter and Bobby Farrelly. While their humor isn’t of the timeless variety, sometimes it is good. The Farrellys excel at dumb movies. It’s their thing. They are the most modern team of directors to turn dumb into an art form.
Some Farrelly flicks work. Others, like their last movie Hall Pass, don’t.
While I doubt audiences 40 years from now will be laughing at Farrelly brothers comedies like that audience did to the Chaplin film, for today’s audience, the Farrellys do provide some much-needed laughs in an era when movies are void of them.
That brings us full circle to The Three Stooges. A lot of us equate The Three Stooges with the term “dumb.” So doing a movie with Moe, Larry and Curly is not only a good fit for the Farrellys, it’s a smart idea.
Sometimes, it’s smart to do dumb. Unlike about half the Farrelly brothers flicks, The Three Stooges is actually funny. It’s a clever redo that shows the three stooges first as orphan children and then as grown men still living at the orphanage.
A debt crisis comes up and the orphanage needs over $700,000 or it must close. The stooges decide it’s their responsibility to help pay off the orphanage’s debt. To earn the money, though, they get mixed-up in a murder-for-hire plot.
The Farrellys do their film in three acts. Each has funny side bits so the plot doesn’t move forward as much as it zig-zags toward a solution. Some of the funniest segments involve Moe who gets cast in the reality TV show Jersey Shore.
Sean Hayes (Portlandia), Will Sasso (How I Met Your Mother) and Chris Diamantopoulos are perfect picks for Larry, Curly and Moe. The three actors — especially Sasso — have the looks, voices and mannerisms down. What the three actors don’t have are the decades of experience that the original stooges had to perfect their schtick. They do a decent, but sometimes flawed, job with the bonks, boinks and slapstick and remind us of just how well the real Moe, Curly and Larry did their thing.
That brings me back to my mom. In spite of being deprived of cable, I managed to catch more than my fair share of The Three Stooges shorts and full-length features. They remain among my favorite movie memories.
Thank you Peter and Bobby for giving us one more shot at them and for reminding us just how funny — when done right, and it is done right here — slapstick can be.
Mr. Movie rating: 4 stars
Rated PG for mature themes. It’s playing at the Carmike 12, the Fairchild Cinemas 12 and Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.