In 1925, vaudeville star and comedian Ted Healy almost inadvertently created one of the most influential comic acts of the 20th century. Taking to the stage in a boisterous routine adorned by three unruly, interrupting assistants (known as ‘southern gentlemen’, ‘lost souls’ or ‘racketeers’), he was unaware that his supports would soon eclipse their leading player, morphing into standalone stars. Shared films sparked his sidekicks’ ascent to the annals of entertainment history, before a parting of ways changed their fate. For four decades afterwards, they elicited laughs on screens big and small through their raucous antics. They were The Three Stooges.
Of course, more than three performers comprised the trio during their initial run, as illness, injury and other unfortunate occurrences had an impact on their number. As such, it feels fitting that the latest revival also experienced casting issues (with Sean Penn, Jim Carrey and Benicio del Toro all once attached), until directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly (Hall Pass) settled on television actors Sean Hayes (Will & Grace), Will Sasso (MADtv) and Chris Diamantopoulous (Up All Night). As Larry, Curly and Moe respectively, they endeavour to pay homage to and increase the 220-strong film legacy of the first incarnation. The aptly titled The Three Stooges is the outcome of their celebratory efforts.
Staged as three episodes in recognition of the many short films the troupe is best known for, the feature follows their first 35 years. In act one, the boys grow into men at the Sisters of Mercy Orphanage, terrorising Mother Superior (Jane Lynch, Glee) and Sister Mary-Mengele (Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm). After discovering their home will close unless a hefty sum is raised, they head to the city to find the requisite funds. Their actions – including shady dealings with trophy wife Lydia (Sofía Vergara, Modern Family), and a short-lived split – inform the second segment, whilst the final instalment sees the trio wade through reality television and mischievous murder plots.
References to the original features abound amidst the expected slapstick silliness and pithy word play, with the directors and their co-scribe Mike Cerrone (Me, Myself & Irene) crafting a passable pastiche of Stooges material. Their attempts to ape the physical and verbal comedy are amongst the film’s most successful sections, surpassing the soon-to-be-dated pop culture references (Jersey Shore and the Kardashians among them), and efforts to reference modern technology. And whilst depth is lacking, gags are overplayed, and performances are simply imitations, amusement can be found in the accurate emulations of the comedy icons. Whilst The Three Stooges may be merely an effective – albeit unspectacular – offering in its own right, if it inspires new generations to revisit the efforts of the originals, then its existence is earned.
The Three Stooges was released in Australia on June 21st.
Directors: Bobby and Peter Farrelly
Cast: Sean Hayes, Will Sasso, Chris Diamantopoulos, Jane Lynch, Larry David and Sofía Vergara