Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Three Stooges - 2012

"The Three Stooges" - 2012
Dir. by Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly - 1 hr. 32 min.

Official Trailer #2

by Clayton Hollifield

I feel like it's important to get the level of my expectations for "The Three Stooges" out of the way before we get into the dissection.  The trailers looked awful, literally everyone I know would cringe (at the least) at the thought of this film, and there's literally no chance I would have gone to see this film if it weren't for the "free" ticket attached to the Blu-Ray edition of "Dodgeball" ("free" is in quotes because I still had to pay another $.75 over the value of the voucher for a ticket to a matinee showing.  I'm not sure which end is being a cheapskate on this issue, but it's another drop in the bucket of negative expectations going in).  A couple of weeks ago, the lead actors made a in-character guest appearance on WWE's "Monday Night Raw," which was mainly a vehicle to show off Will Sasso's Hulk Hogan impersonation (worth mentioning: Hogan actually works for a WWE competitor at the moment), during which the crowd sat on it's hands.  Credit to Sasso: it was a good impersonation, and he actually took an impact move from a much larger wrestler during the segment.  But still, there's been literally nothing at all about this film that suggests it would be even watchable in the promotion for it.

Mitigating all of this: it's a PG-rated film, so I know going that it's not going to be a high-brow comedy, and the fact that it's directed by Bobby and Peter Farrelly, who have at least a couple of great comedies under their belt.  So even though "The Three Stooges" looks like a dog, there's at least some talent involved, and it's not unheard of for a studio to botch the advertising campaign for a film.

My interest in "The Three Stooges" is a little more abstract; I was curious as to how the filmmakers would approach making what is essentially a cover version of another comedy act.  Movies and TV shows get re-made all the time, and have been since the dawn of cinema.  But the act of trying to re-create something that's come before is fairly rare.  Gus Van Sant remade Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" shot-for-shot, and while it was interesting in an academic sense (and I'm certain it was an interesting exercise for Van Sant), I'm not sure there are many people who would call it a successful movie.  In comedies, the closest thing I can think of right now are the "Brady Bunch" movies, but other than re-creating the house and indulging in a few call-back moments from the original series, it was more of a fish-out-of-water story than an attempt to tell a new story with the same characters.  I'll admit that my knowledge of cinema history isn't as comprehensive as it could be, but the idea of using new actors to impersonate an established property, and then try to earnestly tell a new story on that basis (as in, no winking to the audience or relying on the irony of the situation to carry the humor) isn't something that I'd seen before.

Deep breath, preamble over!

The story in "The Three Stooges" is a well-worn one, split into three sections (complete with title cards and all).  To keep it short, this is "save the house" film; after a chunk of film establishing the Stooges as orphans, as adults, they have to come up with a staggering sum of money to pay off debts that the orphanage has incurred.  They are wrangled into a murder-for-hire plot which would cover the sum (it's not as dark as it sounds), which goes awry.  That's about all you need to know, because the plot exists solely to keep the Stooges moving along into different physical comedy pieces.  That's not a negative; if you're interested in seeing this film, that's likely the draw.  The repeated process is to introduce the characters into a new scenario, introduce the props that are available, and then watch how the whole thing comes together.

And it's worth mentioning that this formula is effective.  I found the first act to be the least-effective, but the hospital scene in the second act and the anniversary party scene in the third worked well.  The comedy is broad and physical, and it's fine to resent that other than THAT'S THE ENTIRE REASON YOU WOULD SEE A "THREE STOOGES" MOVIE.  And it's fine to roll your eyes a bit at the idea of the Stooges running wild in a hospital (as if that's never been done before!), except the target audience of this film probably doesn't have decades of movie-watching under their belt, and so it's new to them.  And also, it's pretty funny.  Having a pissing-baby battle in the maternity ward (while Larry and Curly are in drag as nurses) is a pretty funny idea, and the execution is good.  The scenes come together well, showing that the Farrelly brothers definitely do know how to build a comedy scene.  And really, the only difference between this PG-rated comedy and R-rated ones is that here, all the violence is above the waist.  Slapstick isn't dead, it's just evolved into a crotch-centric genre.

It's also worth mentioning that Will Sasso's Curly is a lot of fun to watch.  Once you get past the stylized sound effects and mannerisms, it's apparent that for a big guy, he can really move.  A lot of the enjoyment I got out of this film came from watching his physical abilities.  I don't want to pretend that it was enough to prop up the entire movie, but since I was already there, and he deserves a tip of the cap, I'm more than willing to offer that.  The other two leads, Moe (Chris Diamantopoulos) and Larry (Sean Hayes) also do a good job with what they've got to work with, but my eyes kept going back to Sasso for the entire movie.

"The Three Stooges" was a lot better than I figured it would be, going in.  It would have been almost impossible for it not to be.  But I still can't figure out why on Earth the film got made.  The original Stooges are so far in the past that I can't believe there was some pent-up demand for more adventures.  And the resulting film isn't so great that it would have demanded to get made, either.  It's a more interesting approach to a movie "cover song," in that it's an attempt to re-contextualize classic characters without emphasizing their chronological "otherness" or a mere re-creation, but I didn't think it really succeeded at providing a foundation for more "Stooges" material.  To put it more plainly, even removed from the intellectual approach, it wasn't that great.

But thank goodness it didn't suck as badly as the trailers.  At least there's that.

2 / 5 - Theatre

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