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'The Three Stooges' draws laughs, shrugs and rebukes from critics

April 13, 2012 |  1:24 pm

The Three Stooges

"The Three Stooges," a new comedy based on the vaudeville trio, has been a passion project for brothers Peter and Bobby Farrelly ("There's Something About Mary," "Dumb & Dumber") for years.

Reviewers of the film, which opened Friday, tend to fall into three camps: those who find it lighthearted and funny enough to appeal to Stooges fans and newcomers alike, those who find it harmless but mostly unnecessary except for aficionados, and those who find it a complete waste of time.

Among the first group is L.A. Times film critic Betsy Sharkey, who says "it's almost impossible not to be won over by the eye-poking, head-slapping, nose-twisting shenanigans that pepper nearly every scene." The film isn't ironic or winking, just silly, and it "simply requires that cynicism be temporarily shelved and the thinking side of the brain shut down." The Farrellys, Sharkey says, are "a good fit" for the material, and two of the three lead actors — Chris Diamantopoulos as Moe, "the film's anchor," and Will Sasso as Curly — perform admirably. Sean Hayes is less successful as Larry, but the film remains "a very amusing escape."

New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis echoes Sharkey, calling "The Three Stooges" a "thoroughly enjoyable paean" to the comic trio and agreeing that "it's a perfect fit for the Farrellys." The story, Dargis admits, is "unabashedly creaky," and there's not much in the way of visual style, but "you may be too busy watching and laughing at Moe, Larry and Curly to care."

Less enthusiastic about the new Stooges film are critics such as the Chicago Sun-Times' Roger Ebert and the Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips. Ebert concedes that "The Farrelly Brothers have made probably the best Three Stooges movie it's possible to make in 2012," but he also admits, "I didn't laugh much .… Some of the sight gags were clever, but meh." Stooges devotees will likely enjoy the film, but nonfans like Ebert may be left wondering, "was it really necessary?"

Phillips, who notes that "absurdly brutal slapstick is a tough thing to sustain across a feature," recalls, "I spent a lot of 'The Three Stooges' staring, not laughing. For me this was a stare-out-loud affair." The cast is "very solid," Phillips says, but the film's "sentimentality often feels at odds with the protracted, unevenly executed set pieces relying on wrench-conks and hot irons to the chest."

Other reviewers have panned the film, including the Washington Post's Sean O'Connell, who says it "manages to pummel you into submission with 92 minutes of relentless stupidity. Even by Stooges standards, it's overly juvenile and totally dumb." O'Connell goes on to write, "it's unnecessary. There isn't a single idea in the film that justifies the Farrellys dragging these classic characters out of the mothballs."

The San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle, a self-described Stooges fan, goes further: "It's just not enough to say that 'The Three Stooges' … is the death of comedy. Rather, it's the death, burial, putrefaction and decomposition of comedy. It is where comedy, once alive, ends up as dust blowing in the wind."

Which of the three camps viewers fall into will likely depend on their interest in eye-poking, head-conking and nyuk-nyuking.


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Photo: Chris Diamantopoulos, Sean Hayes and Will Sasso in "The Three Stooges. Credit: Peter Iovino / 20th Century Fox