I grew up watching the 3 Stooges. Most baby boomers did much to the chagrin of our parents. I, like most boys my age, knew all the routines from the head slaps, to the fist slaps, to spinning on on shoulder. And every Saturday and Sunday morning I got to study their routines over and over again.


My favorite character was Curly, again as with most people. I was always perplexed as to why he wasn't in all the stooges films and had stand-ins who weren't nearly as funny. That was when my dad enlightened me to the fact that Jerome "Curly" Howard had already been dead for almost ten years. Whoa!


But it was easy to not know that because, as cornball as they were, Curly's antics were still fresh and innocent. Yes... innocent. Curly was everyone's favorite. And like them or hate them, everyone knew about the Three Stooges.

Moe Howard, Curly's other brother Shemp and Larry Fine were the original stooges, but Shemp left for a solo career and Curly took his place. Curly was only in 100 or so of the films before he had a massive stroke from which he only partially recovered. He returned only to die soon after. Shemp returned to the group until his own death in 1955. He was replaced by Joe Besser (Joe) and Joe DeRita (Curly Joe) who continued until Moe's death in 1975. (Ironically Moe and Larry died within months of each other!)


But it was a franchise that lasted [technically] 42 years and continues today through infinite reruns. That brings us up to now with Bobby and Peter Farrelly's new film "The Three Stooges". I mentioned all that historical stuff so that you can get it out of your mind that this is a biographical piece. No, this is a sort or reboot of the franchise with three new actors.


That's why it should be clear that it isn't a sin against nature to replace the stooges - as you know, they did it all the time with Curly's part.


The Farrelly Brothers actually direct an homage to Moe, Larry and Curly. Which, despite what our parents would have said, now isn't a bad thing. Because with all their antics, their act was clean and so is this.

It is modernized only by changing the year, but not the various points of reference. The three start out in an orphanage (as a colleague queried, are there even any orphanages left?) The film is broken up into three segment the first dealing with the orphanage. Skyler Gisono, Lance Chantiles-Wertz and Robert Capron portray the young Moe Larry and Curly quite adeptly; they are tossed to the doorstep by a speeding car.


From then on they are cared for by the nuns including hard nosed Sister Mary-Mengele (Larry David in penguin drag) and Sister Rosemary (Jennifer Hudson) are the lead nuns with Mother superior (Jane Lynch) overseeing. They never get adopted, though the nuns try in vain to get rid of them, and wind up as the orphanage half witted handy-men. That's when the second part kicks in. The orphanage, due in no small fault of the stooges, is heavily in debt and is about to be sold unless they can raise $830 thousand dollars.


The grown stooges embark on an effort to save the orphanage ala "The Blues Brothers" but with no talent. They offer to hire themselves out and wind up as the dupe employees of the conspiring wife of a millionaire. She wants to kill her husband and she wants the stooges to do the deed, which bring us to the third segment on their reunion with a former orphan friend.


Breaking the film into three 30-minute shorts was a great idea. Using the kids as young stooges was creative; the old stooges would have dressed themselves as babies - like they did on a few occasions when they depicted their childhood.


The gags (including the law office signs) were spot-on as were the characterizations by the cast. Repositioning a new cast as the stooges is exactly what Moe would have done if he were still alive, so there was no problem with that. But missing was the edginess

that made the stooges... the stooges. With the exception of a couple of barbs, this film was just too PC.


"The Three Stooges" is a great homage to a very, very funny slapstick troupe. But while great care was taken to assure the look and feel, the writing lacked the edginess the trio maintained for forty years. Spoiler: stifling Jennifer Hudson when she breaks out in song was stooges gold!   -- GEOFF BURTON