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Movie reviews: 'The Three Stooges,' 'Cabin in the Woods'

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POSTED: April 18, 2012 11:13 a.m.
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The Three Stooges have been reincarnated for modern audiences.

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THE THREE STOOGES

*1/2

Can anyone who isn't a Stooge fan possibly enjoy The Three Stooges? More to the point, can anyone who is a Stooge fan possibly find merit in this Farrelly misfire?

As a longtime groupie of the comic trio of Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Curly Howard (the last-named eventually replaced in succession by Shemp Howard, Joe Besser and Joe DeRita), I'm the proud owner of all the shorts The Three Stooges made between 1934 and 1959. Tellingly, I don't own the feature films in which they starred, not only because most of these efforts (the majority produced during the 1960s) found the team past their prime but also because with these guys, the less plot the better.

Leave the features to Charlie Chaplin and Preston Sturges and Woody Allen and other comedians with something to say- when it came to the Stooges, we want our nyuks fast and furious.

The necessity for brevity is just one of the lessons lost on sibling filmmakers Bobby and Peter Farrelly, who felt the world needed a 92-minute Three Stooges movie starring Three Stooges impersonators. Despite their game efforts, Chris Diamantopoulos, Sean Hayes and Will Sasso are never able to make us forget that we're not watching Moe, Larry and Curly - they're the cinematic equivalent of cover bands, competently going through the motions in a superficial manner but unable to compete with the real thing.

They're tossed into a standard-issue plot concerning the clods' mission to raise a sizable sum of money in order to prevent an orphanage from going under. Bidding farewell to the nuns who run the place - among the sisters' ranks are Glee's Jane Lynch, Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson, Sports Illustrated model Kate Upton, and Larry David in drag - they head to the big city, where they become ensnared in a plot by a ruthless beauty (Sofia Vergara) and her hapless boyfriend (Craig Bierko) to murder her husband (Kirby Heyborne).

Smart scripting would have played up the premise of these old-fashioned Stooges set loose in a modern world, but only a single gag (involving an iPhone) even glances in that direction. Instead, the film's jabs at contemporary relevancy take it where we least want it - but most expect it - to go: in the realm of potty humor.

There's an endless sequence in which the three use hospital-ward babies as guns, holding up their naked bodies and shooting each other with streams of pee. Still, it's hard to say which is more excruciating, this sequence or the ones that give ample screen time to the cast of Jersey Shore. (You read that right: Snooki, The Situation and all the other open-mouth breathers rack up SAG minutes here.)

The same evening after sitting through this screening, in order to wash away the bad taste left by this film, I popped a classic Stooge short into the DVD player - 1940's A Plumbing We Will Go, to be specific. Now that's eye-poking, ear-twisting, nose-tweaking, head-banging entertainment.

THE CABIN IN THE WOODS

***1/2

Stop me if you've heard this one before. Five college kids head to a cabin in the middle of nowhere, hoping for some r&r. Instead, something evil starts picking them off one by one...

Unless you've spent your own existence in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, there's no way not to be knowledgeable of this setup, which has powered many a horror flick for approximately four decades and counting. But it's guaranteed that you haven't seen anything quite like The Cabin in the Woods, which uses its ordinary, even boring, title to lull us into a false sense of familiarity.

This is no cut-rate slasher flick like Friday the 13th or Cabin Fever; instead, writer-director Drew Goddard and co-scripter Joss Whedon elect to ape Rod Serling by taking viewers on a "journey into a wondrous land of imagination." The Cabin in the Woods isn't quite The Twilight Zone, but it does manage to carve out its own niche spot.

This is a particularly difficult film to cover since the less a potential viewer knows, the better -- I daresay even the relatively spoiler-free trailer reveals a bit more than what's desirable. So let's just establish what we can ascertain from the movie's opening act. Five likable students -- the sweet Dana (Kristen Connolly), the vivacious Jules (Anna Hutchison), the hunky Curt (Chris "Thor" Hemsworth), the quiet Holden (Jesse Williams) and the perpetually stoned Marty (Fran Kranz) -- leave the city and head toward the remote cottage owned by Curt's cousin. Meanwhile, Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford), two men who work in what appears to be a science facility, prattle on about the accident of 1998 and take sizable bets from co-workers.

Not enough intel? Sorry, that's all you get here. But rest assured that these two plot strands will eventually find each other. When they do, the film falls into what I believed to be a reversal of misfortune, settling into standard fare with the cynicism elevated to an uncomfortable degree. Silly, shortsighted me. The Cabin in the Woods soon bursts loose from this holding pattern, growing ever more outrageous and entertaining as it barrels toward its take-no-prisoners climax and conclusion.

To reveal anything more about this film would be criminal. But did I mention that the happy frog made me laugh out loud?

THE RAID: REDEMPTION

***

In 1948's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Alfonso Bedoya's bandit sneered a classic snatch of dialogue at Humphrey Bogart's prospector: "Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges! I don't have to show you any stinkin' badges!"

While absorbing the blur of frenetic action that is The Raid: Redemption, one can easily imagine writer-director Gareth Evans spitting out a similar line to critics and moviegoers not on his wavelength. "Plot? We ain't got no plot. We don't need no plot! I don't have to show you any stinkin' plot!"

The need for speed is a necessity in successful action flicks, but even doozies like Die Hard and The Fugitive took time out to smell the exposition. This Indonesian import can't be concerned with such niceties: After a prologue that lasts about as long as it takes to brush without flossing -- we meet a cop named Rama (Iko Uwais) at home, loving on his pregnant wife before leaving for work -- we're immediately thrust into the thick of it. A ruthless crime lord resides on the top floor of a slum building, and a special unit of law enforcement officers is ordered to take him down.

Yeah, that's basically the whole show; it's not Shakespeare -- heck, it's not even Stephenie Meyer -- but who needs complexity when the end result is as purely entertaining as what's presented here? There's a traitor among the good guys, but the identity is so obvious that it hardly taxes the brain. There's also a connection between one of the heroes and one of the villains, but it's so risible and far-fetched that it only further proves that this film shouldn't attempt any heavy lifting in the cerebrum.

No, The Raid: Redemption works best as pure, unadulterated, uncut action -- it's like cocaine for adrenaline junkies. While the film can't help but stir memories of countless other actioners, particularly those set within carefully controlled buildings (Die Hard, Assault on Precinct 13, Attack the Block), its moves are all its own, thanks primarily to the contributions of star, stuntman and martial arts expert Uwais. The hand-to-hand combats are breathtaking to behold, and the Welsh-born Evans also knows how to obtain maximum returns from the ample scenes which focus on gunplay rather than fist fights.

The characters are painted in such broad -- or, in a couple of instances, clumsy -- strokes that only two really stand out. One, of course, is Rama, thanks to Uwais' natural charisma. The other is a villainous henchman appropriately nicknamed Mad Dog. Played by Yayan Ruhian, he's a short, wiry man who lives to fight -- and kill -- with his feet and fists.

At one point, he has an opportunity to shoot one of the heroes but chooses instead to lay down his weapon and fight up close and personal, trading kicks and blows until one of them is dead. In most movies, this sort of improbable situation can lead to audience guffaws, but not here. Witnessing the damage Mad Dog can inflict on the human body, a bullet suddenly seems like a pleasant way to go.

TYRANNOSAUR

***

The gritty British drama Tyrannosaur opens with a scene in which the drunken Jacob (Peter Mullan), in a fit of rage, kicks his dog to death. And he's supposed to be the most likable of all the men who trample through this film's lower-class Leeds setting.

Just as Gary Oldman made his writing and directing debuts with a movie about miserable Brits (1997's Nil By Mouth), so too does Paddy Considine. The accomplished actor (My Summer of Love, In America) has ducked behind the camera to fashion a brutal tale in which Jacob, who's more likely to punch a person than smile at them, finally meets someone he can marginally stand. That would be Hannah (Olivia Colman), a meek Christian whose husband James (Eddie Marsan) almost makes Jacob look like Atticus Finch by comparison.

When we first meet James, he's drunk and urinating on his wife's back as she sleeps on the couch. Such abhorrent behavior from her grotesque spouse makes it easier to understand why Hannah doesn't back away from Jacob but instead decides to pray for him. Despite Hannah's faith, this isn't exactly a match made in Heaven: Jacob initially treats her poorly as well, but over time, the pair begin to enjoy a friendship that, in its best moments, brings a ray or two of sunshine into their lives.

There's more to the film -- more decent characters suffering horrible fates, more despicable neighborhood thugs begging for a painful comeuppance, and more miseries to be doled out to everyone unfortunate enough to have been born under Considine's pen. Clearly, Tyrannosaur won't have viewers exiting the screening with a song in their heart (unless that song is maybe "Ave Satani"), but the film is impeccably crafted, with sterling performances by all three leads. Those angling for a "feel-bad" bummer won't be disappointed.

 

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