A few years back when the Farrelly brothers announced they were courting Russell Crowe, Benicio Del Toro and Sean Penn to play the Three Stooges, it sounded like an audacious hoot. Imagining three absurdly overqualified master thespians brawling through a cheerfully chaotic, gleefully vulgar tribute to cinema's premier lamebrains was a pleasure in itself. Now, with a much-downsized cast of TV actors, the project poses the question, "Why does this film exist?"

There is hardly a smidgeon of comic invention here. On the level of impersonation, Sean Hayes makes a winningly daffy Larry, his quirkiness unforced. Will Sasso throws himself unreservedly into the punching-ball role of Curly, and Chris Diamantopolous huffs and puffs but never captures the original Moe's nitroglycerine fury. To raise the fortune needed to save their orphanage alma mater, the boys bumble into a plot hatched by a sexpot (Sofia Vergara) and her dim-bulb lover (Craig Bierko) to bump off her rich husband. That shaggy dog setup would have worked in the boys' Great Depression heyday. There's a kind of history diorama interest in seeing the Stooges' ossified gags trotted out once more.

When the Farrellys try to "open up" the story, introducing the Stooges to the contemporary world of iPhones, tweets and Kardashians, the gags don't stick. A misguided subplot introducing a second troupe of idiots from an MTV reality series merely proves that too many schnooks spoil the broth. -COLIN COVERT

  • ★ out of four stars
  • Rated: PG for action slapstick violence, some rude and suggestive humor including language.
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"Lockout" is a good news/bad news-but-mostly-bad news sort of movie. Set in 2079, it stars Guy Pearce as the standard wisecracking tough guy who jokes even when he's getting punched in the face. Pearce gets into his groove swiftly, owns it and remains entertaining throughout. The rest of the movie, however, would work better as a video game. There's plenty of repetitive action of the run/ hide/ shoot/ kill variety, but it's not visually interesting, so you'd probably have more fun operating the controller yourself.

Pearce plays Snow, a squinty bad-ass who gets sent to a formidable space prison for hard-core baddies, including a truly deranged convict (Joseph Gilgun). When hell breaks loose at the prison during a visit by the president's daughter, Emilie (Maggie Grace, "Lost"), Snow agrees to rescue her to avoid incarceration. The mission is dangerous, almost impossible, and crazy tattooed freaks are trying to kill them at every turn, but Snow and Emilie still find time for cute banter.

Garden-variety explosions and gunfire only go so far. At least if you were playing it as a game, "Lockout" would get you involved. As it is, though, watching it feels more like skirting the edge of a black hole. -CONNIE OGLE, MCCLATCHY NEWS SERVICE

  • ★★ out of four stars
  • Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, language including sexual references.
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