The Three Stooges posits that the characters are timeless: that their antics and their demeanor would still work and be funny in a more modern context. It is a dubious proposition at best, but the movie makes a decent case. There is enough obvious affection and reverence for the original shorts and their unique brand of humor to make this movie a fine tribute. But this humor was never meant to last the span of a feature-length film. In short bursts, The Three Stooges can be enjoyable, but as a full-length film, it does get pretty tedious.
The movie begins with infants Moe, Larry and Curly (Chris Dimantopoulos, Sean Hayes and Will Sasso) being dropped off at an orphanage. The three turn out to be troublemakers, and are unable to get adopted. Thirty-five years later, they are still at the orphanage, now working as maintenance men. Hearing that the orphanage is about to be shut down, the three venture off to find a way to raise the $830,000 required to save it. Along the way, they get caught up in a kooky murder plot involving an old orphan friend and his scheming wife Lydia (Sofia Vergara).
The stooges are pretty much perfectly cast. The long history of this production is peppered with more prestigious, but in the end, these three seem to be the best choice for these roles. Chris Dimantopoulos directs his frown with deadly precision. His displeasure radiates vast distances on screen. Sean Hayes injects impressive personality into the character of Larry. Will Sasso is simply delightful as Curly. He manages the same lightness of gesture and strange unhinged glee of the original.
The three are thrown into surprisingly intricate slapstick set pieces. Fists fly, limbs intertwine, and heads bump in carefully choreographed sequence. The actors display plenty of talent for physical comedy, and the film actually feels inspired in these moments. The love for the characters from the cast and the filmmakers is so clear that it’s actually endearing. That good can only last for so long, however. The original Stooges were wise enough to know that their shtick would be difficult to sustain, and kept their bits pretty short.
Ninety minutes is a real stretch. There isn’t really enough plot to go around, and the movie grinds to a halt as its set pieces simply go on for too long. A middle sequence featuring a collection of urinating babies feels particularly egregious in this regard. It just seems to go on forever, with the joke never really escalating. The filmmaking is competent but generally unexciting. In a way it’s appropriate, since those original shorts weren’t really known for their aesthetics. But it probably wouldn’t have hurt the movie to be a little more visually dynamic. The old-school comedic sound design, however, feels perfect for what they’re trying to achieve.
The Three Stooges doesn’t really have much reason to exist. The original shorts are still available to anyone who wants to see them, and they’re still as good as they were decades ago. Extending the stoogery only delivers diminishing returns. But one must acknowledge the care and affection that went into constructing this slapstick spectacle. While the movie does wear out its welcome eventually, it really is quite charming for a little bit.