Don’t slap yourself for missing out, give ‘Three Stooges’ a shot

Bill Thomas, Arts & Entertainment Editor

What about Shemp?

That the biggest complaint to be leveled at “The Three Stooges” regards the absence of the original third Stooge (replaced in 1932 by the now more well-known Curly) is a minor movie miracle. With a self-imposed PG rating as well as the uneven output of writing-directing team Peter and Bobby Farrelly conspiring against it, this flick could easily have taken a pratfall right off the map. That it manages to somehow stumble its way into the heart is nothing short of sweet cinematic surprise.

Telling the life story not of the performers beneath the bad haircuts but rather of their fictional Stooge personas, the generic plot sees our trio on a long, meandering quest to save a nun-run orphanage from foreclosure. Along the way, they get hired as hitmen, pose as nurses, become reality TV superstars, give a dolphin the Heimlich and use the flammable power of their own flatulence to save the day.

Will Sasso (best known for “Mad TV”) is Curly, Sean Hayes (best known for “Will & Grace”) is Larry and Chris Diamantopoulos (best known for, um, nothing) is Moe. Despite such debatable comedy pedigrees, a better gang to play the iconic nyuk-nyuk-nyuk-leheads you’d be hard-pressed to find. Sometimes they try too hard, sometimes not hard enough. But, more often than not, the ruse is damn near “poifect.”

Larry David and Craig Bierko support in amusing bit parts, while Sofia Vergara and Kate Upton provide much-appreciated yet thankfully unobtrusive eye-candy (FYI: watching Upton’s heavenly body jiggle in a curve-hugging, black-and-white “nun-kini” brought back all kinds of strange, suppressed emotions from this reviewer’s Catholic school upbringing). There are even cameos from the rightly reviled “Jersey Shore” crew, but they’re thankfully brief and treated with enough vitriol to be rendered tolerable.

For some, seeing the second greatest comedy ensemble of the stage ‘n’ screen (the Marx Brothers being the first, natch) practice their elaborately choreographed vaudevillian chop-sockey on Snooki is downright blasphemous. Ultimately, though, the original trio had misfires worse than this (“Snow White and the Three Stooges” springs agonizingly to mind). And if this nostalgic love-letter inspires a new, younger audience to rediscover the real deal, all the better.

Admittedly, the Farrellys’ bright, modern style diminishes the claustrophobic kinesis of the Stooges’ Depression-era cartoon anarchy and the overall pacing is a mess, with long stretches that drag on tiresomely. But when the film hones in on the same rapid-fire shtick, roughneck slapstick and corny puns that made Moe, Curly and Larry household names in the first place – rather than on unwelcome gross-out gags, out-of-place gallows humor and anachronistic pop culture references that’ll date the movie in a year’s time – the film is nevertheless a joy.

While not as good as last year’s “The Muppets,” it’s a similarly refreshing dose of optimism, kitsch and simplicity in an increasingly cynical, self-important genre. Like its titular protagonists, “The Three Stooges” is “pure of heart and dim of wit.” Because sometimes dim wit is just what the doctor ordered.

3 stars out of 5