**1/2 (out of four)
My dad has loved the well-intentioned, dimwitted antics of Moe, Larry and Curly since he was a kid. He came with me to “The Three Stooges” and enjoyed it. That’s an endorsement from a true fan.
For those without built-in affection for the comedy goofballs from the 1930s-’50s, Peter and Bobby Farrelly’s (“There’s Something About Mary”) rejuvenation of the characters registers as both better than it looks and worse than it needed to be. Adapting an old-fashioned style to the modern day could have yielded better contemporary humor than mere mentions of Facebook and Geico and the iPhone. That’s not comedy writing; that’s product placement.
Following a plotline conceived about the same time the Stooges were, Moe (Chris Diamantopoulos of “24,” great), Larry (Sean Hayes of “Will and Grace”) and Curly (Will Sasso of “Mad TV”) try to raise enough money to save the orphanage where they grew up—and remained until the age of 35. As nuns at the orphanage, Larry David, Jennifer Hudson, Jane Lynch and Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition cover model Kate Upton win a long-shot bet for the one person who wagered they’d appear together onscreen.
Faithful to a franchise that relied on ripping out hair and poking eyes for laughs, “The Three Stooges” serves as innocent fun when it’s steering slapstick violence somewhere playful rather than uncomfortable. (Sofia Vergara plays a woman who hires the guys to kill her husband, a plotline that isn’t as lighthearted as the Farrellys seem to think.) Incorporating a popular reality show and its cast into the movie counts as a slap in the face to longtime fans, but it’s just a temporary distraction from funny bits like the pals trying to sell farm-raised salmon … that they water while the fish lie on a golf course.
At one point, Jim Carrey, Sean Penn and Benicio Del Toro were cast as the Three Stooges. That might have been an inspired, weird take on beloved characters. The “Three Stooges” movie that actually happened aims largely to impersonate, most successfully when simply offering more of the same.
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