[13 April 2012]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
I don’t really feel the need to defend myself for having a six-pack.
So it’s come to this. Dwight Howard’s tumultuous season—the contract confusion, the bizarro press conference with Stan Van Gundy, the currently sore back—has apparently brought him to a 10-second appearance near the end of The Three Stooges. He doesn’t have a line, he’s at the far back of a long shot, standing near a basket, and if you blink, you’ll surely miss him. But he’s there… almost as if he wandered onto the set, perhaps not having heard what happened before he got there.
It’s more likely that Howard and his agent, the same one who worked out his deal with the Magic, regarding his future and his coach’s too, found a way to have the superstar center excised from the movie once they got wind of its very badness. Other stars appearing in this movie, who were unable to change their contracts or be excised from the final product, should look into hiring this agent.
These stars include Jane Lynch, Sofía Vergara, and Jennifer Hudson—maybe even Sean Hayes—all of whom must have had better choices in front of them. By now you’ve probably heard about the drastic cast and script changes over the years of the project’s “development.” That Bobby and Peter Farrelly have come to this particular end, with these particular players and egregious script as the means to resuscitate the Stooges, might best be described as disappointing.
This effect grinds into gear from the film’s first moments, deploying the Stooges’ theme song over a title for “Episode 1: More Orphan Than Not,” in which the infant Stooges are dumped on an orphanage doorstep (from a noisy muscle car, suggesting they’ve come from poor and violent stock, not that anyone intends to stereotype). The nuns (including Hudson’s Sister Rosemary and Lynch’s Mother Superior) coo and smile and bring the babies inside, undeterred by the utter strangeness of their signature haircuts. Soon enough, as little boys, the Stooges are delivering unto their caregivers all manner of injury: the nuns appear with black eyes, arm casts, and woeful expressions, each doing her best not to be assigned to give care.
One of these nuns, Sister Mary-Mengele (Larry David), first appears abusing the other orphans only means she deserves to suffer brutal reckoning at every possible turn. With her, the movie sets up a kind of morality for the Stooges’ violence, neither original nor clever. It also sets up a banal explanation for the bully Moe, who really does love his fellow Stooges (indicated when he tries to convince an adoptive couple (Stephen Collins and Carly Craig) to take all three, a plea that leads directly to his losing his own chance to be adopted alone). The other two don’t quite grasp this premise, but instead take their lumps. Unadopted after some 35 years, Moe (Chris Diamantopoulos), Curly (Will Sasso), and Larry (Hayes) are called on to leave the orphanage at last when the place goes into foreclosure. They decide they’ll find the necessary $830,000 and return triumphant, to save the nuns and their charges, including, of course, the pale and ailing adorable tomboy, Murph (Avalon Robbins).
Once deposited into the outside world (in Episodes 2 and 3), the Stooges demonstrate their complete idiocy, compounded by their occasional—when convenient—ignorance of contemporary gadgetry (iPhones) and pop culture (reality TV). In order to earn the money, they agree to commit murder for Lydia (Vergara) and her boyfriend Mac (Craig Bierko), their target being her husband (Kirby Heyborne). Mayhem follows, including episodic stops in a hospital, where they make wearying use of props ranging from body casts to peeing baby boys to clothes irons used as defibrillators.
Throughout, the comedy is abjectly physical: people fall off ladders, slam into fire hydrants, hit by buses and chainsaws and fists. If Moe’s abuse of Larry and Curly is mean (though explained), most other individuals are rightly punished. Thus the Stooges engage the players on the Jersey Shore: who could be more deserving of Moe’s brutality than Snooki and the Situation? This joke, like every other in the film, is over as soon as it’s introduced, but is milked for long minutes of eye-poking and face-smacking, nose-hair-pulling and tongue-clamping. It makes you wonder whether Snooki or JWoww or Ronnie’s agents looked at scripts before they signed up.
This might constitute another kind of morality, the care one takes with one’s brand (such as it is). Jane Lynch and Jennifer Hudson and Dwight Howard have stakes in this. However he had his part in The Three Stooges removed (or even if The Three Stooges removed him, which is a possibility, maybe), something has at last gone right for Dwight. It may be the start of a whole new way of thinking about celebrity, that is, not taking on any and every opportunity that comes one’s way, not talking for any and every camera, and maybe valuing one’s brand. As Howard now describes his situation to Hannah Storm, “The only thing I could probably say that I could have done better is probably just keep my mouth shut more.” It’s not taking responsibility, it’s not even acknowledging the moral questions raised, but it sounds like a good idea.