Dave's Rating:

4.0

Success. Success. Success!

Up is down. Black is white. I just laughed nonstop through a hundred-minute-long Three Stooges impersonation.

I didn't go willingly. It's my job. And as much as film critics aim for objectivity, sometimes it's just impossible. Maybe a critic has an irrational, deep-seated dislike of a certain actor. Maybe he or she is already predisposed to loving the work of a specific director or writer. Or, in my case, maybe a lifelong love of the original Three Stooges had soured me on the idea of anybody tampering with their memory. Not maybe. It had. I was actually angry that this movie was getting made at all. You just don't touch something as specific, lowbrow and stupidly brilliant as The Three Stooges and hope you'll improve on it. On top of that, what have the Farrelly Brothers done for anyone lately? Don't say Hall Pass or The Heartbreak Kid. Nobody thinks of those fondly. And nobody should.

That makes this consistently hilarious head-bonk-fest all the more shocking. The guys who put fake semen in Cameron Diaz's hair have pulled off what amounts to a magic trick: they aimed for a family audience, eliminated the raunchy fireworks, and devoted themselves to a project that is both extremely weird and overflowing with love for its legendary subjects. And it's still a Farrelly film: it begins with an appropriately Stooge-like origin segment when, as babies, the trio is zipped into a duffle bag and hurled from a moving car onto the steps of an orphanage. It's the kind of random punishment-oriented gag the real Moe, Larry and Curly (played here by Chris Diamontopoulous, Sean Hayes and Will Sasso) would have thought funny even if it's not the sort of thing that plays well with the enhanced sensitivities of audiences in 2012. And it takes place in the opening moments so you have a chance to leave if you're too delicate for a little relentless abuse.

Divided into three segments that structurally resemble Stooges shorts from 70 years ago, it's a dumb and dumber tale of saving that financially ruined orphanage (whose nuns include Larry David, Jennifer Hudson and Jane Lynch), cracking a Sofia-Vergara's-cleavage-based murder scheme and crossing paths with the cast of Jersey Shore (who, not to worry, get everything they've got coming to them). But the real subject of this tribute to vintage idiocy is the endless nyuks, whoop-whoop-whoops, violent choreography of eye gouges and mallets to the skull, spine-destroying falls and repetitive face-slappings that are the full substance of all things Stooge, every moment Foleyed to perfection and overseen by filmmakers who clearly wish they hadn't been born so late.

No, it's not the real thing. But what's just as important to know is that it's also not not a cheap, pale, cynical imitation, either. It's more like a drunken Halloween party, an exuberant pantomime or a really convincing drag show, all performed with comedy-nerd attention to detail, impeccable timing and a ridiculously big heart. Purist fans who turn up their nose deserve a pie to the face.

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