Moe Howard, Curly Howard and Larry Fine shot to fame in the '30s and '40s as vaudeville act The Three Stooges. Their black and white short films tickled plenty of funny bones and inspired a host of Hollywood filmmakers in the years following. One look at the likes of Wile E Coyote or the painful slapstick stunts of the Jackass team, and it's easy to trace those hijinks back to the Stooges.
For Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly the trio left a lasting impression, with the brothers long trying to mount a big screen Three Stooges revival. The likes of Jim Carrey, Benicio Del Toro and Sean Penn were all linked to the Farrellys' movie at one time or another, but the project arrives with a decidedly less starry (though perhaps just as effective) cast. TV journeymen Chris Diamantopoulos, Sean Hayes and Will Sasso step into the roles of Moe, Larry and Curly respectively for 90 minutes of eye-poking, nose-tweaking, head-banging physical comedy.
Split across three segments, the story sees the titular trio seek to raise $830,000 (£529,600) to stop their orphanage - run by nuns Jane Lynch, Larry David, Jennifer Hudson and a mostly fully-clothed Kate Upton - from closing down.
For all the hammers smashing into heads and carefully-engineered set pieces, Three Stooges is a movie about friendship and brotherhood. The sentimental streak that runs through the Farrellys' work is evident here as the bond between Moe, Larry and Curly lends plenty of heart to proceedings. The three leads throw themselves into their roles with a large dollop of enthusiasm. Sasso in particular makes a strong impression as the endearing dimwit who frequently hollers "woop, woop, woop" (a cry later adopted by Homer Simpson and Futurama's Professor Zoidberg).
The Three Stooges's serial structure is a smart way to break up the already slender running time, but as it unspools, there's a strong feeling that it's still outstaying its welcome. The gags fly thick and fast, yet by the umpteenth face slap it's beginning to get a bit tedious - a problem that's underlined by the feature-length format. In the YouTube age of 10-minute online video, perhaps that is the best way to deliver further adventures for this slapstick troupe?
Nevertheless, The Three Stooges is an undemanding movie and serves up exactly what you'd think, neither falling below or exceeding expectations. There are plenty of laughs to be found here if it's seen in the right frame of mind.