A site of satirical musings, commentary and/or rhetorical criticism of the world at large.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Farrelly Stooges

The Farrelly Brothers version of The Three Stooges bows later this week. Long anticipated by fans of the slapstick icons, this production was closely watched and monitored for the two or three years it took to come to the big screen. At one point, Jim Carrey and Sean Penn were rumored to be cast; eventually, unknowns were given the unenviable task of bringing the trio into the 21st Century.

By my count, this will be the third time a classic comedy franchise will be updated in recent years. The Little Rascals (1994) did decent business at the box office, but obviously not enough to do a sequel or two or three. The All New Adventures of Laurel and Hardy in ‘For Love or Mummy' (1999) never saw the light of the big screen in the United States; it was released straight to the video stores.

The Farrellys have earned a reputation for gross out (There’s Something About Mary) and mean-spirited offensive humor (Dumb and Dumber). In this regard, it would seem that the Farrelly Brothers and The Three Stooges are a good fit. Critics will likely savage the newest production as decidedly low-brow. Up until this week, fans and critics have only had the trailer playing in theaters and going viral on the Internet to (pre-) judge the results.

The trailer is typical Farrelly Brothers; it is both intriguing and off-putting. To be fair, the jokes seen in the trailer are not the same humor many of us know and appreciate as typical stooge humor. True, they dwelled in a world of violent slapstick demonstrating that rewards for good deeds, or punishment for bad can come swiftly and often painfully. Yes, it’s true: The Three Stooges have been teaching young people about the lessons of karma for years! Who da thunk it?

Now, seventy years later however, violence has become more pervasive in all media. The 24/7 news cycle continues a tradition begun with coverage of the Vietnam War by bringing violent images of conflict into our living rooms every day. The newspapers that are still in business regularly publish graphic accounts of the most obscene acts perpetrated on people, acts which would only have been hinted at two generations ago. Even the radio and television media broadcast violence in graphic terms in songs and dramas. How can the Stooges humor compete? Obviously the Farrelly Brothers have been forced to ramp up the brickbats.

So now, instead of a cream pie falling from the ceiling, there will be bells falling off a roof. Instead of cats dropped down a man’s pants, it’ll be a live lobster that goes for Larry’s groin region. No, not very subtle, but again, to be fair, it’s a different world now. It’s not The Three Stooges universe of yore, but rather a galaxy populated by the simpletons that could arguably be considered the Stooges illegitimate successors: Beavis and Butthead.

Ouch! Please read on some more...if you dare.

Seventy years ago, comedians would say one thing to mean another. The double entendre was a staple of many comic routines, and the audience would have to do a little mental homework to figure what exactly was meant. Now comics say what they mean; there is no meaning to be hidden, period. As an example, the original Curly would just howl like a wolf when he saw a beautiful woman, and everyone understood his reference. Today’s Curly sees a sexy woman and goes into full wolf mode; he is allowed to add growling and panting to the howls. In some respects, this takes some of the fun out of comedy.

So much for the intriguing part of the Farrelly Brothers Stooges. What I find off-putting about their version of the Stooges legend is their understanding of the Stooges collective intelligence. In one scene, our heroes are begging for work with a placard that spells their goal as “wirk”. Okay, the Stooges I grew up with were uncouth, or unsophisticated to put it delicately. Yes, they would be highly offended if you addressed them as gentlemen. They would proudly display their union membership in Amalgamated Morons, but illiterate? Are you kidding us, Farrellys?

The plot, as I perceived it from the trailer, has something to do with the Stooges saving the orphanage where they were raised. Okay, so it’s not a terribly original plot idea — hell, it wasn’t even that original when the Blues Brothers used it in 1980 — but it is a safe plot. How can one argue with the efforts of three well-meaning, uncouth simpletons in trying to save a noble institution as an orphanage?

Regardless if we are watching the original Stooges or the Farrelly’s Stooges, there are lessons to be learned from them, and from Moe in particular. The head stooge would drive home his lessons with a slap or two, and perhaps an eye poke. His manners weren’t so subtle, but that may have been the point. Oftentimes, life is not subtle.

There could also be an argument made that the eye pokes and jabs, the multiple slaps, and other upper limb contortions were all designed to belittle the concept of using violence in everyday life. I have yet to see a serious critique on this aspect of their comedy, but millions of us understood it as we watched the Stooges on a daily basis, and many of us understood this long before we started our formal education. This is probably why the Stooges legacy endures in the hearts and minds of children of all ages – from five to 50 and beyond.

Soitenly, many of us will check out the Farrelly’s Stooges out of curiosity. Some diehard fans are not getting their hopes up that this latest incarnation will be a worthy addition to the Stooge legacy. On the other hand, we might be pleasantly surprised. It might be worth a few nyuks, nyuks, nyuks after all.

(Thank you for reading. Remember, never try violent slapstick at home. Always leave it to the professionals!)


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