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(2012) (Chris Diamantopoulos, Sean Hayes) (PG)

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Comedy: As they try to raise money to save the orphanage where they were raised and still live, three adult buffoons end up involved in a murder for hire plan.
Larry (SEAN HAYES), Curly (WILL SASSO) and Moe (CHRIS DIAMANTOPOULOS) have known each other since birth due to growing up together in an orphanage run by Mother Superior (JANE LYNCH). From kids to their current adult stage, the three have been and are still known for their wild antics and goofy behavior, something barely tolerated by nuns Sister Rosemary (JENNIFER HUDSON) and Sister Bernice (KATE UPTON), and that is the constant source of irritation for the perpetually ornery Sister Mary-Mengele (LARRY DAVID).

When they learn that the orphanage needs more than $800,000 to stay open, the three men, a.k.a. The Three Stooges, set out to raise the money despite not possessing any skills to do so. That doesn't matter to Lydia (SOFIA VERGARA), the voluptuous wife to Teddy (KIRBY HEYBORNE), a wealthy man who grew up with the Stooges at the orphanage before being adopted by Mr. Harter (STEPHEN COLLINS). Lydia and Teddy's friend, Mac (CRAIG BIERKO), are having an affair, and they hire the Stooges to mercy kill Lydia's husband.

But since they're told that Mac is Teddy and that he's terminally ill, they try to perform the deed on him. All of which leads to various shenanigans, including a run-in with the cast and crew of a reality TV show.

OUR TAKE: 1 out of 10
There are those, including yours truly on occasion, who complain about the dumbing down of society, especially regarding much of the entertainment that's presented for our consumption. The truth, of course, is that material with little to no great expectations has always been around, particularly in comedy form, hoping to tap into our more primitive brains to elicit laughs from the most basic material.

One need only examine the offerings from past decades for proof positive of that, so I don't think we need to worry about any "It's the end of the world and we know it, and I feel fine" musings. And some of that dumb material and those who practiced it have their share of defenders, some of whom are rather fervent about their admiration for the material.

Among others, I guess we can now include Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly, best known in the world of cinema as The Farrelly Brothers who hit mainstream success with films such as "Dumb and Dumber," "Kingpin" and "There's Something About Mary." While those films have their share of insipid material and characters (some of which, admittedly, have been funny or at least amusing to various degrees), they'll seem like high-brow Masterpiece Theater offerings in comparison to what the filmmaking siblings have now tackled.

And that's a contemporary, big screen version of "The Three Stooges." Reportedly in the works since the 1990s, the film has been trapped in development hell and has gone through its share of big name actors who at one time or another were interested or committed to the project. Fortunately for them -- but unluckily or, more accurate, unwisely for those who ultimately landed the roles -- they managed to avoid appearing in this painfully awful flick.

None of which has anything to do with any personal distaste for the original (and revolving) cast members or their works that spanned decades starting in the 1930s. I recall watching their shorts and films on TV as a kid, although I didn't find their brand of slapstick humor as funny as what the likes of Laurel & Hardy, Abbott & Costello, the Marx Brothers or Buster Keaton delivered.

Had the Farrellys gone the biopic route, this might have been an interesting flick, what with the history of the real-life act and their dealings with the studios, fame and other such trappings of being celebrities trying to work over a large span of years in the industry. Alas, they simply decided to make a new version of the old shtick, and it simply doesn't work in today's world.

Targeted at kids who wouldn't know the Stooges from the other acts I previously mentioned, the film takes the odd tact of having the characters look, speak and act like their real-life predecessors. I understand the homage part of that, but it seems like a lot of wasted effort mimicking the past when the rest of the surrounding material stinks.

In fact, this might be one of the most forced and unfunny comedies I've seen in a long time, with me wanting to take the advice of the pre-show announcement and walk, not run, to the nearest exit in case of an emergency. The latter would be possible cranial injury, or at minimum, insult, from having to sit through this 90-some minute flick that's broken into three separate "episodes" (not that the segmenting does anything for the flick or the viewer).

Somewhat akin to Jake and Elwood needing to raise money to save an orphanage in "The Blues Brothers," our dimwitted trio -- played by Chris Diamantopoulos, Sean Hayes and Will Sasso -- go out into the real world to find enough funds to keep their orphanage open. But rather than put a band back together, they first end up mired in a murder plot featuring Sofia Vergara and Craig Bierko as lovers trying to knock off her husband (Kirby Heyborne). Not surprisingly, The Stooges get this all wrong and hijinks are supposed to follow.

They do, but they're neither funny nor entertaining, a point driven home when Moe ends up as a cast member of a reality TV show. Yes, you read that right. The film -- penned by the Farrellys and Mike Cerrone -- jumps the shark, as they say, and lands in the cultural cesspool known as "The Jersey Shore." You know you've hit rock bottom when that's supposed to further, enhance or somehow save the plot, but it only serves to help point out how bad the flick is.

Trust me, you'd rather be poked in the eyes, slapped or pounded on the head repeatedly rather than sit through this travesty. What might have been fascinating as a biopic derails quite quickly as a contemporary comedy, and why the likes of Vergara, Jane Lynch and Larry David (in drag as a nun) signed on in supporting parts is beyond me.

Perhaps they were hoping for some "There's Something About Mary" comedy magic, but they probably now wish they could have done a disappearing act before filming began. I certainly wish I had before sitting down for this. "The Three Stooges" rates as a 1 out of 10.

Reviewed April 10, 2012 / Posted April 13, 2012

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