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The Three Stooges' surprisingly fun

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Farrelly brothers' effort full of slapstick and sweetness

Watching people get hurt is sad. Watching them get hurt without injury or consequence is hilarious. That's why the Three Stooges were able to become some of the biggest stars of Hollywood's younger days. In real life, poking eyes and thumping heads with hammers ends up with bloodshed and hospital visits, but in the world of the Stooges, no permanent harm is ever done.

Bobby and Peter Farrelly have taken it upon themselves to update that world with 'The Three Stooges.' However, this isn't your typical Farrelly gross-out jam. It's their first-ever foray into the more family-friendly realm of a PG rating.

The story begins at an orphanage where a duffel bag is unceremoniously dumped on the doorstep in a drive-by. The three babies in the bag immediately make a negative impression on the dour Sister Mary-Mengele (Larry David, TV's 'Curb Your Enthusiasm') before initially charming the rest of the nuns. However, when we flash forward 10 years, we quickly learn that these boys are far more of a handful than anyone could have guessed.

Before long, we get to see the Stooges as they are now, with dim-witted Larry (Sean Hayes, 'Soul Men') and excitable Curly (Will Sasso, 'Life As We Know It') being used and abused by leader Moe (Chris Diamantopoulos, TV's '24') as they careen around the grounds of the orphanage that they never left. However, it turns out that the diocese simply can't afford to keep the place open any longer. So Larry, Moe and Curly make their way out into the world getting swept up into a world of conspiracies and reality television.

You better believe that hijinks ensue.

As a long-time Stooge lover, I had mixed feelings about this movie. Everything I had heard about the project seemed to indicate a film in free-fall. While on the surface, the Farrellys and the Stooges seemed like an interesting marriage, it remained to be seen how the filmmakers would reconcile their own gross sensibilities with the innocent slapstick of the Stooges.

It turned out to be better than I anticipated.

The key to the film's success lies with its three leads. Make no mistake; these are not interpretations of the Three Stooges. These are straight up imitations. Hayes nails Larry's nasal whine. Sasso is fearlessly physical as Curly. And Diamantopoulos is the best of the bunch he absolutely nails Moe's voice, his physicality, his attitude. The three of them together essentially equals a first-rate Three Stooges tribute show.

The supporting cast is wide-ranging (as tends to happen with the Farrellys). Not only is Larry David an unexpected delight, but Jane Lynch (TV's 'Glee'), Sofia Vergara (TV's 'Modern Family'), Jennifer Hudson ('Winnie') and Stephen Collins (TV's 'No Ordinary Family') all do yeoman's work in helping to flesh out this story. Even the extended cameos from the 'Jersey Shore' crew aren't that terrible.

Still, it's the reverence that Peter and Bobby Farrelly obviously have for the source material that makes this movie work. The film is broken down episodically, with intros drawn straight from the old days. They make liberal use of speeding up the camera and obviously fake stunt dummies both pages from the Stooges playbook. But most of all, they don't feel the need to weigh things down with their usual farts-and-body-fluids aesthetic; this results in a movie that is still funny for adults, but also accessible to kids.

'The Three Stooges' isn't great cinema. It's not even the best work from the Farrelly brothers. But it's a lot more fun than the abysmal trailers would have you believe. It's not all gold, but if you're a fan of the Stooges, you'll have a good time.

Even if you're a knucklehead.

3 out of 5

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