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MOVIE REVIEW: 'The Three Stooges' is lacking in needed raunchiness

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In this image released by 20th Century Fox, from left, Will Sasso, Chris Diamantopoulos, and Sean Hayes are shown in a scene from "The Three Stooges." (AP Photo/20th Century Fox, Peter Iovino)

The Three Stooges: The Movie

(PG)

2 out of 4 stars

In the 12 years since talk of a Stooges movie began, five different studios have held the distribution rights and close to three dozen actors were in various stages of discussions to play the three leads. First it was going to be a full-blown bio-pic and then a set of remakes of three classic short film episodes. The only constant the entire time was the enthusiastic and devoted participation of writer/producer/director brothers Bobby and Peter Farrelly.

Having not made a decent film since "There's Something About Mary" in 1998, the Farrellys are in desperate need of a hit and are about one flop away from dropping off the industry radar forever. Like every Farrelly movie since "Mary," "The Three Stooges" gets about as much right as it does wrong, which is fine if you've never seen the genuine article. For those familiar with those classic shorts, this movie is a supreme (but not surprising) letdown.

Let's get to the good news first. The casting -- initially perceived as a total bust -- turned out to be a master stroke. The original choices -- Benecio del Toro as Moe, Sean Penn as Larry and Jim Carrey as Curly -- would have certainly resulted in more prestige and a decidedly higher profile, but would have also bloated the budget far beyond a break even point. In the end, the Farrellys settled on one semi-big name and two relative unknowns who not only look amazingly similar to the men they're playing, they completely nail all of their trademark mannerisms. The same can be said for the child actors that portray the characters in the first act.

Based on the established time line, the movie starts in the mid-'70s when the Stooges are dropped off -- make that dumped -- on the front steps of a Catholic orphanage. For reasons better left unexplained here, the Stooges -- now in their 30s -- are still living at the orphanage waiting to be adopted. During this crucial opening act, three nuns played by Jane Lynch, Jennifer Hudson and Larry David (yes, you read that right -- Larry David) essentially carry the film.

When told that the orphanage will be closed because of crushing debt, Moe (Chris Diamantopoulos), Larry (Sean Hayes) and Curly (Will Sasso) take it upon themselves to save it. They have 30 days to scrounge up a little more than $800,000 and, in keeping with the typical Stooge mindset, they don't have a clue as to how they're going to do it.

Going from the relative sticks to big city for the second act, the movie remains somewhat interesting, but not because of anything having to do with the plot. Set and filmed entirely in metro Atlanta, the movie's chief appeal at this point -- at least for Georgians -- is identifying local landmarks and points of interest. This was also the case with the last Farrelly movie ("Hall Pass").

The second act also marks the beginning of the onslaught of the Farrelly's tired collection of bathroom humor and pathetic sight gags. One particular scene features the Stooges performing diaper duty then using urinating babies as weapons. Throughout the film (and this is not such a bad thing) there are also many lingering close-up shots of Sofia Vergara's ample cleavage. Before it's all over, the filmmakers toss in a couple of fart and poop jokes and besides being unfunny, they're oddly tame. And there's the paradox.

In order to secure a "PG" (read "family-friendly") rating, the Farrellys (who've almost always worked within heavy "R" territory) had to temper their gross-out shtick to such a degree it loses all of its shock value. This isn't necessarily a bad thing for those unfamiliar with the original Stooges or for the parents of under-10 children who are leery of material that might go too far.

The bottom line -- as it usually is for most Farrelly movies -- "The Three Stooges" is just OK and probably worth some peoples' time and money as a future DVD rental. One has to wonder how much better it could have been if it were goosed up and rated "PG-13" or even "R." (Fox)