The Three Stooges

 

Directed by Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly. Starring Chris Diamantopoulos, Sean Hayes, Will Sasso, Jane Lynch, Larry David, Sofia Vergara, Jennifer Hudson, Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino 92mins, general release, Cert PG

Freud reminds us that all comedy is derived from sadism; the Three Stooges confirmed as much with a nyuk-nyuk-nyuk. Moe, Larry and Curly lacked the wit of the Marx Bros, the pathos of Laurel and Hardy and the freehand possibilities of Looney Toons. Yet over the course of almost 200 short films they confirmed their standing in American culture and kept up a theatre of cruelty. Their eye-gouging fun would inspire a young Iggy Pop and the Farrelly Brothers, for whom this big-screen reinvention was a labour of love.

Can you feel the love? Sadly, the answer is “yes”. The architects behind There’s Something About Mary and Kingpin make merry with the poking and thumping, but are ultimately far too fond of their comic heroes to make them or us truly squirm.

Chris Diamantopoulos, Sean Hayes, and Will Sasso duly provide reverent, polished impersonations and sterling vaudeville choreography. The originals formed a Human Centipede of master-and-slave relations; the newbies are mischievous, cuddly charges at a contemporary orphanage run by Jane Lynch and Jennifer Hudson.

In keeping with the honorific vibe, the Farrelly Brothers divvy up the film to resemble original Stooges-sized reels. The episodic structure proves hit and miss. Larry David’s sister Mary-Mengele, the boys’ tortured caregiver, is a delight; Sofia Vergara, though characteristically fabulous, can’t prevent a subplot concerning a murderous trophy wife from petering away into pointlessness.

The rest reworks The Blues Brothers: the boys head off to raise $822,000 to save the orphanage only to wind up in reality TV where they pluck nose hairs from the stars of Jersey Shore. The sight gags were well-worn to threadbare decades ago but apparently they still work on Snooki.

A careful pre-credit sequence sees the Farrelly Brothers ersatz – two ripped, younger gentlemen, one shirtless – deliver a message to the kids: “The point is this movie is all about fun and games so please play safe at home.” It’s a harmless fun coda to a harmless, fun movie. TARA BRADY