THE THREE STOOGES (D: Bobby and Peter Farrelly, 92 min). Opens Friday (April 13). See times. Rating: NNN
Hollywood slapstick specialists the Farrelly Brothers nursed this reboot of Larry, Curly and Moe's abusive shenanigans for years, and the bizarre passion project is easily their best movie in over a decade.
Told in three chapters with title cards like the original shorts, it's a love letter to cinema's comedy violence pioneers that is sure to please Stooges fans while confusing anyone who doesn't find watching grown men smack each other with rubber hammers funny.
The movie opens with three familiar infants getting dropped off at an orphanage run by nuns Jane Lynch, Jennifer Hudson and Larry David (whose obvious cross-dressing is hilariously never explained). Incredible pint-sized mimics portray the Stooges as children before they grow up and leave in search of $800,000 to save the struggling orphanage. The trio do odd jobs for cash, just like in the original films, and then stumble into a ridiculous murder plot that the Farrellys play for cheesy laughs.
The update works because no one involved attempts to change the formula. The threadbare plot strands exist purely to link together slapstick fights and tongue-twisting puns, played with a gentle touch in an exaggerated cartoon reality.
Sean Hayes (Larry), Chris Diamantopoulos (Moe), and Will Sasso (Curly) might lack the star power of some of the names once rumoured to be cast in the roles, but their impressions and pratfalls are eerily accurate. The Farrellys use the original slap-happy sound effects and cheap dummies from the old cost-cutting effects. At one point they cleverly use CGI so that the obvious dummies seamlessly turn into the actors in a single shot.
Modern references to Twitter, iPhones and Jersey Shore are awkward, but for the most part the film plays out like a classic Stooges farce with a sweetly upbeat tone.
Yes, the jokes are puerile and idiotic, rooted in toilet humour, puns and "man-fall-down-go-boom." But with the Three Stooges, you wouldn't want it any other way.