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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Farrelly Brothers' 'Three Stooges': Back on track?

March 25, 2009 | 12:43 pm

I have to admit that when I read Variety's new post about the casting for the Farrelly Brothers' lo-o-o-o-o-n-g awaited "Three Stooges" film, I checked the date to make sure it wasn't April Fool's Day.

SeanpennAccording to Variety, Sean Penn -- coming off his best actor Oscar win -- is set to play Larry; Jim Carrey is in negotiations to play Curly; and Benicio Del Toro is being considered to play Moe. In development, first at Columbia, then at Warner Bros., the project is now at MGM, which says that production will begin in early fall for a 2010 release.

The immediate reaction in Hollywood was, well, a big yawn. MGM keeps making big splashy announcements about upcoming projects, but it's hard to find anyone in town who believes that the studio has the money to make a credible number of movies. Most insiders suspect that this was yet another carefully crafted announcement story aimed at persuading Wall Street that MGM could somehow put together a slate of films with real movie stars.

The betting is that MGM is using Variety to tout the viability of the project, in the hopes that a studio with real money -- like 20th Century Fox, which already handles MGM's home video and international theatrical business and has a long relationship with the Farrellys -- will step in to provide most of the financing. As hokey as it seems, in Hollywood perception is reality, so these announcement stories help create the illusion that MGM is making movies, which could in turn attract more stars and more potential projects.

As for the casting, Penn has said for years that he'd like to star in what Variety would call a "laugher," having been in comedy jail ever since he costarred with Robert De Niro in the monumentally un-funny 1989 comedy "We're No Angels." If Carrey is actually in negotiations to play Curly (Variety says the actor has already made plans to gain 40 pounds to belly-up to Curly's ample girth), it would be a coup for the actor, who is currently off most studios' comedy A-lists, having fallen out of favor because of shaky box-office performances in recent years, which has led studio execs to believe that comedy audiences are more interested in Judd Apatow-style relationship comedies than Carrey-style high jinks. But in his defense, his recent movie "Yes Man" posted strong numbers both here and overseas.

I'm a big Farrelly Brothers fan, but I have to admit that the casting of Penn, Carrey and Del Toro has something of a musty feel to it. In their prime, the Stooges displayed a youthful, almost juvenile energy that might be better served by a younger ensemble of comics. I'm no casting expert, but for my money, isn't Jonah Hill born to play Curly? Couldn't Seth Rogen do a great Larry? And wouldn't Robert Downey Jr. make a great Moe?

If anyone has any better casting ideas (or if you think MGM has the right idea), let's hear it. In the meantime, here's the Stooges trying to retrieve cats from inside a piano:

Photo of Senn Penn by Jewel Samad / AFP/Getty Images