From left, Will Sasso, Chris Diamantopoulos and Sean Hayes perform...

From left, Will Sasso, Chris Diamantopoulos and Sean Hayes perform a scene for a photo in the 20th Century Fox movie "The Three Stooges," due in theaters Friday. (April 12, 2012) Credit: MCT

The predilection for pure idiocy that runs through American culture has few finer exemplars than the Farrelly Brothers, Peter and Bobby, whose misshapen body of work includes "There's Something About Mary" and "Dumb & Dumber." But even the Farrellys genuflect in the presence of the Howards, Moe and Curly, and their co-conspirator Larry Fine, whose long-gone comedy act has inspired one of the Farrellys' better films and a movie in which excess -- the hallmark of everyone involved -- is decidedly a virtue.

"The Three Stooges," long awaited and long delayed, is a virtual clone job: Chris Diamantopoulos, Sean Hayes and Will Sasso, as Moe, Larry and Curly, mimic the trademark tics, groans and barking of an act first defined around 1934 -- the same year, coincidentally, as the founding of the movie's Sisters of Mercy Orphanage. Having been dumped there in a duffel bag thrown from a speeding car, the boys grow up in its sheltered confines, driving the sisters (including the terrific Jennifer Hudson and Jane Lynch) to distraction, and vow to save the place when the nuns fall on hard times. As plot devices go, it's not very original, but it gives the Farrellys the excuse they need to impose the trio on an outside world, where they inflict mayhem and chaos on everyone they meet. And, of course, each other.

In addition to the inspired impersonations of the lead trio, "The Three Stooges" is blessed with a terrific supporting cast, notably Larry David, whose Sister Mary-Mengele is the stuff of Catholic school nightmares, and "Modern Family's" Sofia Vergara, whose character is trying to hoodwink the boys into killing her husband. Nothing in the movie, however, is quite as satisfying as Moe's enlistment on "Jersey Shore," where he becomes a star while subjecting the show's regular cast to a series of ploinks, boinks and nose tweaks. You can almost hear him say, "Listen morons, it's OK to be stupid. But you have to be funny."

PLOT Moe, Larry and Curly try to save their childhood orphanage, without any idea what they're doing.

RATING PG (rude humor, violence)

CAST Chris Diamantopoulos, Will Sasso, Sean Hayes, Larry David, Sofia Vergara, Jane Lynch


PLAYING AT Area theaters.

BOTTOM LINE Listen, porcupine, it's the Stooges. And the Farrelly Brothers. So choose accordingly.

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