Review in a Hurry: Maybe you love nostalgia. Maybe you crave extreme slapstick comedy by the guys who brought you There's Something About Mary. If so, this is your weekend. Otherwise, take a powder, knucklehead.
The Bigger Picture: Say what you want about slapstick comedy. It may not have the bookish introspection of a Woody Allen classic, but it ain't easy, neither, brother. Delivering a halfway decent array of whoops and head-bonks requires hair-trigger timing and mastery of physical comedy, if not a 400-page medical insurance policy. That said, the guys anchoring the latest iteration of The Three Stooges make every bark and eye-poke look like second nature. Sean Hayes, onetime pretty boy from Will & Grace, is unrecognizable in a good way, channeling Larry's nasal nebbish perfectly. Ditto with Chris Diamantopoulos as the sour-lemon-faced Moe and Will Sasso as indestructible butterbean Curly.
This isn't the first time filmmakers have tried to reintroduce the vaudeville-borne trio to a digital-era audience. A year-2000 TV biopic featured The Shield's Michael Chiklis as Jerome "Curly" Howard. But this latest jape is all fiction—a faithful homage to the Stooges comedies of the early- to mid-20th century.
Chucked out of a moving car and onto the doorstep of an orphanage, Larry, Moe and Curly are, literally, born rejects. A bunch of nuns (Jennifer Hudson and Glee's Jane Lynch among them) try their best to raise the boys without suffering a concussion. Eventually the Stooges grow up, but only physically. The orphanage needs money, natch, so the trio marches off in search of dough. Instead they get a dame (Modern Family's Sophia Vergara, as a more homicidal version of her hot-cha self) and a reality TV show producer (Isaiah Mustafa). The inevitable Jersey Shore cast cameos ensue.
Whether you like the writing will be a matter of taste. The Farrelly brothers, the same guys who brought us There's Something About Mary, deliver an occasional laugh line, but rely mostly on lowbrow physical gags for laughs. Those routines can be plenty funny; a favorite gag for fans involves a Stooge going mano-a-clammo with a squirting bivalve, and the Farrellys' update on that classic has to be seen to be believed. (The scene may also refer to the Stooges' penchant for using seltzer bottles as weapons.)
But one can't help wondering what all the effort is for. The original Stooges hit their heyday in the Depression era. That would make this film's target audience either centenarians, or younger folks who managed to unearth the Stooges on late-night reruns or YouTube. Thanks to Judd Apatow, Tina Fey and Kristen Wiig, this generation belongs to writer-driven character comedy, and at times, the Stooges feel like throwbacks mugging for a lost crowd.
The 180—a Second Opinion: At a packed screening recently, the audience could not stop howling with laughter. For folks who don't fall into the Apatow crowd, the Stooges may be just the antidote.