On Tuesday night I watched the new Three Stooges movie directed by the Farrelly Brothers.
I’ve been a big Stooges fan since I was a little kid and watched them on VOK (Voice of Kenya) in Nairobi. It was the publication of Moe Howard’s autobiography Moe Howard and the 3 Stooges: The Pictorial Biography of the Wildest Trio in the History of American Entertainment that really sealed it for me, though. That book humanized the trio and I began to like them not just because they were funny, but for the story of who they were. Since then I’ve read everything I could find about the Stooges including not one, not two, but three biographies of Larry Fine, the Stooge in the middle. (One Fine Stooge: Larry Fine’s Frizzy Life In Pictures is the best, by the way).
I attended a 9:40 showing at a multiplex on Akron’s west side. I was the only one in the theater in which the Stooges film was shown. That was pretty weird. I’ve been to a few showings at such multiplexes where very few people showed up. But this was the first time I’d watched a movie in a theater completely alone. Would they have shown it at all if I hadn’t been in there? Is this a koan?
I liked the movie but I didn’t love it. I wanted to love it. But I couldn’t. Here’s what was good about the movie. Larry David was terrific as Sister Mary-Mengele, a nun who bears the brunt of most of the Stooges outlandish behavior. All of the actors who play the Stooges do a tremendous impressions of the real guys, particularly Chris Diamantopoulos as Moe. He really has the voice and the mannerisms down. And there were some genuine laugh-out-loud moments. I’m usually not the type who LOLs at movies even when there’s an audience in the theater with me. But I actually laughed aloud several times during my private screening.
But maybe I came to the film with too many fanboy hopes. See, if I were to make a Three Stooges movie, I would recreate some of the iconic Stooge moments. I’d have Curly trap himself in a maze of pipes while trying to fix a leak. I’d have Moe do the Niagara Falls routine. I’d have them do the maharaja routine. I’d hire Samuel L. Jackson in a cameo to do Dudley Dickerson’s “This house has sho’ gone crazy” line. I’d get someone to say “Hold hands you love birds.” I’d also put in some references to Shemp, Joe Besser and Curly Joe DeRita. There is one scene in the movie where a rat makes Shemp’s trademark “Eep-eep-eep” sound. But that’s as close as we get. Maybe I’d have them get a sandwich at De Rita’s Delicatessen or have them meet a character who does Joe Besser’s effeminate mannerisms and make something out of how that would play in the 21st century.
The Farrelly Brothers seem to understand that part of the key to the Stooges’ humor is all about the lower classes making fun of the upper class. But they never really take it far enough. The representatives of the upper classes are bad people because they’re plotting a murder. In the Stooges’ films the upper classes were always just twits because they were twits. Not that the Stooges were intrinsically better. I think what I like best about the Stooges’ films is that in them everybody is an idiot, even the main characters (the Stooges) you’re supposed to identify with.
It’s funny to see the Stooges portrayed as they were in the 1930s having to come to terms with contemporary American society — like having Curly try to use an iPhone and Moe getting cast on The Jersey Shore. But even these feel a bit half-hearted. Why not do a whole movie about this? It’s never really explained why the Stooges alone dress, talk and act like people from the 1930s while everyone else exists in 2012. I kept wondering if these bits were left over from some unused version of the script in which the Three Stooges time travel to our era.
All in all, it’s a good movie, but not a great one. Am I weird for thinking there actually could be a great movie about The Three Stooges?