MANY film-makers build on modest debuts, gradually compiling a body of increasingly assured work that reflects their development in the industry.
Writer-directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly seem to have peaked with their third film, the riotous 1998 comedy There’s Something About Mary, and it’s largely been downhill ever since.
The brothers are clearly very talented but that hasn’t been born out by their recent work including The Heartbreak Kid and Hall Pass.
Sadly, the run of poor form doesn’t change with The Three Stooges, a lacklustre revival of the slapstick and japes, which turned vaudeville trio Moe Howard, Curly Howard and Larry Fine into household names in the 1930s and 1940s.
Leading men Chris Diamantopoulos, Will Sasso and Sean Hayes certainly look and sound the part, capturing the childlike, anarchic spirit of their predecessors.
However, the original Three Stooges worked their magic in short films while the Farrellys attempt to drag out the tomfoolery here to an uncomfortable 91 minutes.
The writer-directors bookmark the film into three chapters – More Orphan Than Not, The Bananas Split and No Moe Mister Nice Guy – followed by an epilogue that reveals the magic of foam rubber props, allowing stunt men to batter each other without incurring serious injury.
Don’t try any of this at home, kids.
Curly (Sasso), Larry (Hayes) and Moe (Diamantopoulos) are abandoned on the steps of the Sisters Of Mercy Orphanage.
“Angels from heaven,” coos one nun as the three babies stare adoringly at her.
“It’s the holy trinity,” gushes another.
Despite the best efforts of Mother Superior (Jane Lynch) and her flock including Sister Mary-Mengele (Larry David) and Sister Rosemary (Jennifer Hudson) to foist the trio on unsuspecting parents, Curly, Larry and Moe are still living at the orphanage 25 years later when Monsignor Ratliffe (Brian Doyle-Murray) delivers some shocking news.
The orphanage is to be shut down unless the sisters can raise 830,000 dollars in the next 30 days.
So the bumbling threesome resolves to fundraise with a vengeance and save the home from the bulldozers.
Naturally, Curly, Larry and Moe botch each moneymaking opportunity, including a preposterous interlude with salmon, then an unexpected brush with reality TV threatens to break up the trio forever and condemn the orphanage to its fate.
The Three Stooges wears thin by the end of the first chapter and the cartoon violence between the main protagonists becomes repetitive.
Working from a script co-written by Mike Cerrone, the Farrellys provide the lead cast with meagre scraps of comedy, asking Sasso, Hayes and Diamantopoulos to conjure laughs out of thin air.
Mild amusement turns to pity by the closing frames when a rousing song from Hudson reminds us she has fallen far from grace since her deserved Oscar win for Dreamgirls.
Review by Damon Smith
Released: August 22 (UK & Ireland)
No swearing, no sex, violence