Wednesday, January 23, 2013

On THE THREE STOOGES (2012)

I don't mean this to be sexist, but here goes:  It's usually difficult for us men to make women in our lives  watch and appreciate The Three Stooges.  Most women would rather let Stevie Wonder do their hair.  Guys, getting a woman to watch The Three Stooges with you is like a woman wanting you to watch a Lifetime TV movie on Super Bowl Sunday.  I admit it. Those comedy shorts made me laugh when I was a youngster and watched them on TV.  (My sister usually didn't watch them with me.)  A couple of years ago, I rented a DVD of the restored, remastered shorts featuring that trio and laughed again.  I especially loved the original trio in its early 1930s years for Columbia Pictures.
They had a look and a style of physical comedy that made them easy to caricature in Hollywood satire cartoons of the 1930s.  Slapping, pulling and poking were part of their routine.  They were very visual, very physical, very prop-happy comics.
Even though I have enjoyed Moe, Larry and Curly, I had absolutely no interest whatsoever in seeing The Three Stooges, written and directed by the Farrelly Brothers.  That's the team that gave us There's Something About Mary, Dumb and Dumber and the weird-yet-sweet Stuck On You starring Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear as conjoined twins.  Stuck On You also has fabulous cameos by Cher and Meryl Streep.  I like the Farrelly Brothers, but I started to feel that they were an acquired taste you outgrow.  Like The Three Stooges.  I got that feeling because of seeing them do local and network TV interviews in New York promoting previous films.  I noticed that they seemed to have a planned "outrageous" behavior, probably to make them seem edgy.  For no good reason, they worked the term "rat bastard" into interviews as if they were trying to prank local live newscasts.  That can be cool on MTV but, for news folks, that's annoying.  I emceed a celebrity awards luncheon one year.  Meryl Streep attended.  So did the Farrelly Brothers.  They did that sort of "hipper-than-you" frat boy routine again when they took to the microphone.  The thing is -- they're smart filmmakers and they're beyond college age.  They didn't need to do that.  I heard them do radio interviews for The Three Stooges.  How refreshing!  They sounded like mature, likable, experienced filmmakers with good stories to share.  THEN...I started to hear reviews for the movie.  Another surprise.  They were good.  I expected to hear that it was basically Dumb, Dumb and Dumber.  No.  KPCC FM news radio out of Southern California has a film review hour every Friday.  One critic praised it as the kind of comedy film that could have been made had Columbia Pictures "ever spent more than a nickel" making its Three Stooges productions.
I saw The Three Stooges...and I agree with that film critic.  In fact, I've seen it twice.  He admitted he only saw the movie because it was an occupational requirement.  He had to review it.  He was pleasantly surprised.  He also raved about the performances.
For all the trio's popularity and instant recognizability, Columbia Pictures kept the act in low-budget short features.  The Three Stooges were never given the love and star treatment that MGM gave The Marx Brothers, Universal gave Abbott and Costello or that Paramount gave Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in the 1950s.  This silly, entertaining comedy does indeed show us what could have been -- and it shows us with three of the most amazing performances to highlight a comedy that came out last year. Those three gentlemen are why I had to see the movie a second time and why I may see it again.
Sean Hayes, formerly "Jack" on Will & Grace, plays wire-haired Larry.  Chris Diamantopoulos, "Julian" on NBC's Up All Night, plays bossy Moe.  Will Sasso, forrmerly a member of the MADtv sketch comedy show, plays Curly.
You will be slack-jawed at how good these actors are as the comedy trio.  They're not made-up to resemble the Stooges and copy their broad physical comedy.  Each actor is recreating the actor who played his assigned Stooge with expert attention to that particular actor's mannerisms, vocal pitch, vocal cadence and carriage.  They also get each Stooge's timing.  This is especially true of Diamantopoulous as Moe.  He nails Moe Howard's gimlet eye and foreman-like scowl.  Sasso's physical work is terrific.  The part isn't easy.  Curly was the most animated Stooge.  There was a hyper man-child choreography to his zaniness with a very specific rhythm and timing that Sasso recreates quite well.  Hayes again proves that he's more than "just Jack" from Will & Grace.
These three actors are Meryl Streep-good as The Three Stooges.  They are as committed to playing each Stooge actor as she was in her Oscar-winning performance as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady.  I saw a couple of the vintage Three Stooges shorts on television one weekend before I saw the movie.  I saw the film in flight on my way to a job interview.  There were so few folks on the flight and we'd waited so long for weather to clear for take off that we got free headphones.  When I saw the acting trio in action, I was hooked.  It was as it the old Columbia shorts with the original three had been colorized.  The critics were correct.  The actors were that pitch-perfect in their portrayals.
The plot is slight.  The movie is done in episodes, like the original shorts.  It opens with three orphan babies being abandoned on the front steps of a convent.
They're found by a strict senior nun named Mother Mengele, played...by Larry David.
I'm a Catholic.  I survived years of parochial school.  At some point in our scholastic lives, we all had a nun Mother Mengele.  The other nuns were sweeter.  Jane Lynch and Jennifer Hudson plays fellow nuns at the Sisters of Mercy Orphanage.
Larry, Moe and Curly try to save the orphanage.  They come across a murder plot.  Sofia Vergara and Craig Bierko play bad guys.  Some MTV reality show stars are tossed into the mix.  Yeah, it's goofy.  But fairly innocent.  No American Pie-type crude humor.  And the lead actors are not just saying "Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk," dressed up like The Three Stooges and giving us hipster slapstick.  They're not commenting on, making a gag of and altering a previous work -- like Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson as Starsky and Hutch.  The Farrelly Brothers wrote and directed this as if The Three Stooges were alive to star in a PG-movie.  That means, the actors cast as the late comic trio had to treat this basically as a biopic.  It's a silly movie with three lead actors who took the characters seriously.  Comedy is hard work.  I wish Hollywood honored comic acting more than it does in Academy Award nominations.  These actors made hard work look easy.
The Three Stooges by the Farrelly Brothers, Bobby and Peter, makes a good guilty pleasure weekend movie rental.  Probably more so for the guys.














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