An eye-poking kinship of pain, the original Stooges were best seen—and aped—during Saturday-morning reruns. Watching at home with your unlucky siblings, the true beauty of these fools was clear: They were family. Their abuse was a kind of love. This long-belated Hollywood version, helmed by secret softies the Farrelly brothers, gets this idea completely. Not only do Moe (Diamantopoulos), Larry (Hayes) and Curly (the delicate Sasso) come to life via expert, near-breathtaking impersonations by a trio of well-practiced comedians—extra kudos for nailing the Depression-era Brooklynese—but they actually feel like a genetic clan, meant to cause mayhem as a group, never solo.
So why does the new effort, essentially about saving their orphanage, occasionally ring as hollow as a well-placed head bonk? The metafriction between these classic dupes and today’s idiots chafes uneasily. Larry David playing a furious, never-funny nun only emphasizes his persona’s misplaced shrillness; even less successful are bodacious Sofia Vergara (as a scheming gold digger) and the Jersey Shore cast, mystified when Moe is drafted to their reality-TV show and too squishy to receive his slaps. As with the shorts, our enjoyment was never about the scenarios, just the weird Zen of furious hand-to-Stooge combat. The movie gives you that in fits and starts (it’s even divided into three mini segments) but still feels a woob-woob-woob stretched out.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf