A trio of trouble in The Three Stooges, award-winning Kid is alright

by Mark Burger

No one is going to mistake the Farrelly Brothers’ version — and vision — of The Three Stooges for great screen art, nor is the film likely to be remembered come awards time next year.

Yet there’s enough to enjoy in this (appropriately) sophomoric slapstick romp to make it an amusing surprise, particularly for fans of the Three Stooges.

First and foremost — or thrice and foremost, as the case may be — there’s the amazing and respectful personification of Moe, Larry and Curly by Chris Diamantopolous, Sean Hayes and Will Sasso, respectively, all of whom do a remarkable job of emulating the physical mannerisms and comic timing of their predecessors. And for all the onscreen havoc they wreak, they’re always lovable — which is a major component of the original Stooges’ appeal.

Although a “brand name” as such, The Three Stooges is something of a tough sell. The heyday of the original Stooges was more than 50 years ago, and staunch “purists” may object to newcomers playing their beloved Stooges. In any case, audiences won’t be going for the story — they’ll be going for the Stooges.

The plot, such as it is, involves the efforts of our title trio to somehow get enough money ($830,000, to be exact) to save their orphanage from closing. As infants, they were dumped on the doorstep and have since been cared for by the residents nuns, many of whom have endured their share of batterings, bruisings and various humiliations over the years.

“They’re pure of heart,” defends the Mother Superior (ever-reliable Jane Lynch), to which Sister Mary-Mengele (Larry David!) responds: “And dim of wit!” Out in the “real world,” Moe, Larry and Curly find themselves pawns in a murder plot engineered by femme fatale Sofia Vergara and her sleazy lover Craig Bierko to knock off her rich husband (Kirby Heybourne). Needless to say, the scheme does not go according to plan for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that the aforementioned husband grew up in the same orphanage as the Stooges did.

With only a few detours into scatological humor, the Farrellys tend to stick to tried-and-true Stooge antics throughout, with plenty of slaps, smacks and pokes, replete with exaggerated sound effects.

The best Stooges films were shorts, and stretching the concept to feature length is something of a hurdle. Repetition, understandably, sets in. Nevertheless, thanks to the combined efforts of Diamantopolous, Hayes and Sasso, as well as the affectionate atmosphere created by the Farrellys, The Three Stooges has a slaphappy spirit that pays tribute to the original Three Stooges.

The Kid with a Bike , which opens Friday, is the latest film by writer/producer/director siblings Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, and took home the Grand Jury Prize at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.

The film (original title: Le gamin au velo) centers on Cyril (Thomas Doret), a young boy whose mother has died and whose father (Jeremie Renier) has essentially abandoned him. Desperate to retain some semblance of his previous life of normalcy, Cyril is obsessed with his bicycle — which his father had so thoughtfully tried to sell.

In his travels, Cyril encounters Samantha (luminous Cecile de France), a kindhearted hairdresser who takes a shine to the boy and even takes him to visit his father, who basically tells her that he doesn’t want him around. Not now, not ever.

Filled with anger and resentment over his rejection, Cyril falls under the influence of Wes (Egon Di Mateo), a neighborhood drug dealer and tough. Cyril is seeking his place in the world, but he’s looking in all the wrong places. Ultimately it falls to Samantha to take him by the hand and show him the compassion he badly craves.

The characters are well developed in the Dardennes’ screenplay, and equally well realized by an empathetic cast. Doret and Di Mateo both make impressive screen debuts here, with Doret shouldering the burden of the film with an impressive, consistently high-tension performance. This Kid rocks.

(In French with English subtitles)