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When it comes to The Three Stooges, I know that I'm not supposed to expect Shakespearean grandeur or the wit of Noel Coward.

But, come on, Farrelly Brothers, give me something.

Watching "The Three Stooges: The Movie," I was hoping for one good joke, one gut-busting bit of slapstick — any sign that there's some small amount of brainpower backing up the silliness.

But there was nothing. Just 90 minutes of wheezing attempts to throw a bunch of goofy pratfalls and midlevel celebrity cameos up on the screen, in a desperate hope that the audience will laugh. In a fairly packed preview screening this week, filled with not just movie critics but regular folks, you could hear the air conditioning — that's how laugh-free this movie is.

The Farrelly Brothers know how bring out the funny in a stupid setting, as they did in "Dumb and Dumber." And, as "There's Something About Mary" shows, they know their way around a good sight gag.

But with "The Three Stooges," the Farrellys feel hemmed in by twin imperatives: to deliver the Stooges' somewhat dated physical comedy and to deliver a family-friendly PG rating — presumably on the theory that little kids will laugh at this stuff even if their elders won't.

The script, by the Farrellys and Mike Cerrone, splits the story into three episodes — emulating the short-film format in which the Stooges originally worked. First we meet the Stooges as small children, abandoned at the Sisters of Mercy Orphanage and wreaking havoc on the nuns there — notably the crotchety Sister Mary Mengele (played by Larry David).

As adults, Larry (Sean Hayes), Moe (Chris Diamantopolous) and Curly (Will Sasso) venture into the city to raise $830,000 to save the orphanage from foreclosure. There they meet the sultry Lydia (Sofia Vergara), who hires the Stooges to murder her husband. The Stooges also run into, or fall on top of, the only kid ever to get adopted from the orphanage, Teddy (played by Utah-raised actor Kirby Heyborne).

Hayes, Diamantopolous and Sasso are good physical matches for the original Stooges, and they get the moves down right — from Curly's finger-popping hand gestures to Moe's gruff Brooklynese. But re-creating your grandfather's comedy style isn't enough to cover for the lifeless gags and the sheer waste of supporting talent, including Jane Lynch and Jennifer Hudson as nuns and Isaiah Mustafa (the Old Spice guy) as a reality-TV producer.

The closest "The Three Stooges: The Movie" comes to a genuine laugh is when Moe slaps around the cast of MTV's "Jersey Shore." But even that bit of wish-fulfillment (doesn't everybody want to give Snooki a poke in the eye?) isn't enough to rescue this lame and humorless movie.


'The Three Stooges: The Movie'

The Farrelly Brothers try to revive the classic slapstick trio, but can't make the old jokes work for a new audience.

Where • Theaters everywhere.

When • Opens Friday, April 13.

Rating • PG for slapstick action violence, some rude and suggestive humor including language.

Running time • 92 minutes.

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