In this mildly amusing, yet wildly misguided Three Stooges movie, someone steps on the buxom breasts of Modern Family star Sofia Vergara and we hear a "honk" sound.
Woop woop woop - nyuk nyuk nyuk!
That's the Farrelly Brothers' ode to the much-loved 80-year-old vaudeville act to a tee: create a visual gag and cue it to cartoon sound effects. Bells, whistles, honks and beeps thus accompany slaps to the face, pokes in the eyes and kicks in the crotch.
But haven't we gone past this, people? Aren't old-fashioned circus clowns the only ones who still trade in the slapstick theatre of pain and humiliation?
Instead, Bobby and Peter Farrelly (There's Something About Mary and Dumb & Dumber) are the real stooges here. They've poked themselves in the eyes and shot themselves in the feet by making a plot that's too adult for kids while the pratfalls and slapstick hijinks are too childish for adults. It's a comedy that doesn't know who it's for.
If they aimed it more at teens and adults, with edgier, more eye-wateringly painful gags, this much-troubled project could have been much more fun, and perhaps even something of a surprise hit.
There's no explanation as to why, as babies, Larry, Curly and Moe are dumped at an orphanage run by nuns (including Jane Lynch, Jennifer Hudson and Larry David). Worse still, the nuns despise the mayhem-causing trio as children, yet happily send them off as adults to raise money to save the orphanage from closure.
Never mind. In a nameless city, Larry (Sean Hayes with the Krusty the Clown hair), Curly (Will Sasso) and Moe (Chris Diamantopoulos with a bowl haircut) are unwittingly hired by a gold-digger (Vergara) to kill her husband (Craig Bierko). That threadbare plot is merely a vehicle for the three unwise men to cause chaos and destruction wherever they go.
The Farrellys may be huge fans of the original Three Stooges but they get the tone all wrong here. There's something off about a kids' comedy with a plot about murder, adultery and blackmail. And only teens will get the joke when Moe becomes part of The Jersey Shore reality show, with Snooki and co all making cameos (acting is too much of a stretch, even here).
To their credit, Hayes, Sasso and Diamantopoulos go for it with brave, wildly physical performances, and manage to land a few decent laughs. You have to think the odd eye poke and crotch kick were landed by mistake, too. Kudos to them. But it's a worry when the script is so weak that their more famous co-stars outshine the Stooges themselves.
But when you think that the Farrellys had originally cast Sean Penn as Larry, Benicio Del Toro as Curly and Jim Carrey as Moe, it's hard not to see these three as their understudies. Budget cuts, script problems and delays saw the A-listers walk away, and you can only wonder about the edgier, funnier adult film that might have been with them on board.
The Three Stooges is now screening.