>> Saturday, March 28, 2009

There is a great divide in America that I think will never be healed, that will plague this country forever. I wish it wasn't this way, I wish there was some way for people to come together, if not in some form of agreement at least to some level of tolerance and mutual respect. But I don't think it's possible, I fear the wounds are too deep and the division too profound. Common ground will never be found between people who think the Three Stooges are funny and people who don't.

Actually, I have to make a confession of sorts: I remember watching the Three Stooges obsessively when I was a kid, but now I can't actually remember if they were funny or not. Surely they must have been--why else would I have spent so many half-hour blocks planted in front of the TV in the afternoons, watching the Stooges attempts to enucleate one another or bludgeon each other with kitchenware? But then you find that all-too-many of the things that seemed funny or charming before you turned ten aren't even nearly-so on the wrong side of eleven. The Stooges' antics somehow aren't as indelible to me as the antics of some of their black-and-white comedy-team peers: I remember Laurel and Hardy's efforts to get a piano up a hill or Bud Abbott's fraying patience with Lou Costello over--well, almost everything, but specifically, let's say, over a baseball lineup--more vividly than I remember any of the Stooges' setpieces. Or maybe that's not quite true: maybe there's an existential quality to the Stooges' routines--maybe it doesn't really matter why Curly Howard is slapping his face or how Moe Howard came to have the septum of Larry Fine's proboscis pinched betwixt a pair of pliers, no, maybe these things are things in and entirely of themselves, things that simply are like spacetime or the cruft you get under your toenails.

I just don't know.

To some degree, this may belie the premise of my first paragraph: there are two kinds of people in the world, those who understand that the Three Stooges are funny and those who are sadly confused, except that actually I may be a kind of practicing agnostic who qualifies as a third type, somebody who thinks the Three Stooges are funny but doesn't really believe it. (I've been given the impression by some Jewish friends that they have a similar sense about God.)

The reason this has come up is that I was just reading that the Farrelly Brothers, who are either comic geniuses or two people who suffer from some kind of weird humor-autism that tragically isolates them from other people, appear to be getting close to finally realizing their effort to make a Three Stooges movie after something like a decade of work. They even, it seems, sort of have a cast, with Sean Penn set to play Larry, Jim Carrey in negotiations to play Curly, and Benicio Del Toro eyed as a likely Moe; it strikes me as risky to cast only one comically-gifted actor as a Stooge alongside a pair of notoriously unfunny people better appreciated for their serious roles--I'm just not sure Del Toro can carry an entire comedy by himself, no matter how funny he was in The Usual Suspects.1

The Farrelley Bros.' Three Stooges movie apparently won't be a biopic, as you might expect or hope, but rather appears (from the descriptions) to be more of a rebooting or "updating," i.e. more in line with something like The Brady Bunch Movie than Auto-Focus (this is especially disappointing when you realize that a movie about the Three Stooges becoming addicted to homemade porn would have to be the must-see movie of the decade). This has to be considered a Very Bad Idea, but that's hardly rare in Hollywood (and probably never has been, let's be honest). You wonder what they're thinking out there, only to realize that what exists as "thought" among higher mammals and possibly a few really old rocks is almost entirely replaced among the Hollywood set by the results of meetings in which participants try to anticipate the future by superstitiously mumbling over the entrails of previous box-office receipts and the tossed bony rectal thermometers of pop culture like the New York Times bestseller lists. There will be a Three Stooges movie because the Three Stooges were/are popular, and therefore somebody might go see this movie.

The idea that you might make a good movie and get people to watch it because it's good, as opposed to making a movie that attaches itself to a known brand and if we're lucky it will be good and if not maybe people won't notice it sucks for two weekends, doesn't really seem to occur to anybody. But, you know, oh well. It's a Wallace Beery wrestling picture, what else do you need to know?

So get ready, get set: eyeballs will be poked, noses pinched, ears tugged, and priceless vases broken on foreheads in a theater near you, 2010.2

1This shot being so cheap I'm nearly-but-not-quite apologetic and feel obliged to explain and elaborate: I think Jim Carrey is actually a decent performer who was quite effective in The Truman Show, an under-rated and overlooked movie, and strong in other roles including his turn as Andy Kaufman in Man On The Moon. But the only really funny movie Carrey was in was Dumb And Dumber (okay, I kinda laughed at the first (and absolutely not the second) Ace Ventura--which I'm only copping to because there were witnesses present)--and Carrey isn't the funniest thing in Dumb (that would probably be Jeff Daniels).

Carrey's tragedy, if making bazillions of dollars in Hollywood can be considered in any way tragic, is that he's a lightweight character actor trapped in a manic comic's career. He does some things extraordinarily well, actually--sensitive souls who only display a limited emotional range (but with surprisingly poignant depth within that small range, c.f. Truman or Kaufman), but he's really not especially good at the thing he's famous for.

Let's face an ugly and somber fact while we're dwelling on this: much of Carrey's career trajectory was set by the fact that while he was one of the least funny performers on In Living Color, he was one of the whitest. There, I said it. That's really not so much a slam against Carrey as it is against all the rest of us: we really should have given the bulk of Carrey's career to David Alan Grier or the show's creator, Keenen Ivory Wayans, but we didn't, and I have to suspect melanin had something to do with it (I would love to be wrong). Had Carrey not been Color's breakout star, maybe we'd be seeing his better work and maybe Grier wouldn't be a semi-obscure B-lister.

2So I type that last line, and I look at it, and of course I can't help feeling my heart sink even deeper: 2010! The year we make contact? Not so much. But we get a Three Stooges movie probably nobody really wants to see.

Yeah, suddenly Sir Arthur looks a lot less prescient, doesn't he?


vince Saturday, March 28, 2009 at 8:57:00 AM EDT  

I liked/still like the original Three Stooges - and by original I mean Larry, Moe and Curly. Shemp I can deal with, Curly Joe I can not.

Their humor was broad, slapstick in-your-face funny, and they're not everones cup of tea. But sometimes the real world looks like a Stooges short to me. I'm not sure if that something about me or the real world or both.

As for Carrey, never thought he was particularly funny, although the Truman Show was a good movie.

As for the upcoming Stooges movie, assuming it actually happens, no thanks. I'll be watching the real thing on DVD.

Leanright,  Saturday, March 28, 2009 at 3:32:00 PM EDT  

I've never been a fan. Never saw what was so funny about slapstick comedy; there are cartoons for that.

You've got to leave your intelligence behind because the cerebral workout you will get from the stooges is about zero on the comedy scale.

I can watch Olberman if I want pointless comedy.

Leanleft,  Saturday, March 28, 2009 at 9:10:00 PM EDT  

"I've never been a fan. Never saw what was so funny about slapstick comedy..."

Why am I not surprised by this? You probably ate all your vegetables, too, huh LR? And made your bed every morning?

Eddie Haskell.

(Although I agree with you about Olbermann. He is hilarious when he's calling out Rush's pointlessness, or exposing BillO as a pointless psychopath, or doing Murdoch as a pointless pirate captain. Do yourself a favor, though, find the clip of Glen Beck pointlessly hallucinating himself into hysterical tears a couple weeks ago. Emmy for best comedic performance, right there.)

As for this Stooges movie, I don't think the casting is too outlandish. Penn can be funny, although it's been a loooong time since Spicoli. And Del Toro makes sense as Moe because Moe has few, if any, punchlines (pun intended). He, like Del Toro, is supposed to be more than a little menacing, if just as big an idiot as anyone.

Carrey has succeeded, mainly, because he's one of those guys who will do anything for a laugh. Like Robin Williams or Danny Kaye or, yes, Jerome Howard, Carrey will be manic, he'll contort himself, he's not afraid to spout gibberish loudly. He's a guy who will without hesitation do what few others are willing to do in performance. It's a numbers game (the more shots you take, the more often you hit the target). Damon Wayans is, in a lot of ways, objectively funnier, but he's not as prolific. The Mask was probably Carrey's peak, though.

I think it will be interesting to see what comes out.

Jeri Sunday, March 29, 2009 at 1:15:00 PM EDT  

I've never been a fan of the stooges (or Carrey). I think there are folks that like slapstick and folks who do not.

I also dislike the type of comedy I'd call 'humiliation comedy' - a la Ben Stiller.

I enjoy comedy like Roxanne, A Fish Called Wanda, Best in Show and The Big Lebowski. I guess they're all fairly conceptual and intelligently verbal.

Leanright,  Monday, March 30, 2009 at 1:15:00 PM EDT  

Wow, leanleft! I can't even have a difference of opinion on the three stooges? You guys are rough here. Agree or DIE!

Eric Monday, March 30, 2009 at 1:39:00 PM EDT  

Who's "you guys"? I see a variety of diffenences-of-opinion in these comments. And I honestly don't know who "Leanleft" is (tho' it's possible I should).

Dr. Phil (Physics) Monday, March 30, 2009 at 10:32:00 PM EDT  

I dislike slapstick comedy, so have hated many Carrey films or at least the concept of them. But check out Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind -- where he gets the sensitive serious role and Kate Winslet, with colored hairs, plays the ditz.

Dr. Phil

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