Farrelly Brothers’ Three Stooges Saga: The 13-Year Backstory

Sean Penn, Jim Carrey, Benicio del Toro newly attached to project with complex history.

Almost 40 years after the final Three Stooges movie, “Kook’s Tour,” was released, it appears the Farrelly brothers are finally on their way to bringing the slapstick trio back to the big screen.

As Variety reported earlier this week, [movieperson id="93819"]Sean Penn[/movieperson] has signed on to play Larry, negotiations are under way with [movieperson id="10030"]Jim Carrey[/movieperson] for the role of Curly, and [movieperson id="16222"]Benicio del Toro[/movieperson] is the top choice to become Moe.

Perhaps stranger than this casting news is the very notion that the Farrellys’ Stooges revival has survived this long. Even by Hollywood standards of seemingly endless development and turnaround time, this project has suffered through more than its fair share of eye pokes, cheek slaps and head butts. Here’s the story of how the movie came together (and how it almost didn’t).

It all began in 1996 while Peter and Bobby Farrelly were working on the Woody Harrelson comedy “Kingpin.” The brothers had a realization that nobody had ever done an adaptation of the Three Stooges and that they were the perfect guys to take on the challenge. They set up a meeting with Columbia Pictures, but couldn’t come to an agreement with the studio about the correct approach to the material.

Four years later, with the blockbuster success of [movie id="119799"]“There’s Something About Mary”[/movie] behind them, the Farrellys revived the Stooges idea with the then-head of Warner Bros., Lorenzo di Bonaventura. The pitch they made for their updated movie was “Dumb, Dumber & Dumbest,” and di Bonaventura gave them the go-ahead.

In the spring of 2001, Warner Bros. sent out a press release touting the deal they’d signed, and in January 2002, the brothers and Mike Cerrone, their frequent collaborator, settled in to write a script. The first draft took them seven months to complete, and even then they weren’t satisfied. Neither was Russell Crowe, who read the script and turned down the part of Moe. Cerrone and the Farrellys continued to work on drafts. At some point, reportedly, Warner Bros. balked at the gross-out humor — a Farrelly trademark — that made it into their adaptation. Still, filming was eventually set to begin in the fall of 2004. But the casting never came together and the studio eventually let the rights to the Stooges property lapse.

In 2006, First Look Studios picked up those rights in a deal with C3 Entertainment, a company founded in 1959 by the Stooges. C3′s CEO expressed admiration for the Farrellys’ version, but nothing ever came of it.

“It is happening, but we don’t know when,” Peter Farrelly nonetheless reassured MTV News in 2007.

“We’re trying to make [the script] feel like the original stuff, in the vein of the Stooges comedy,” Bobby added. “[We'll retain,] of course, the hitting-each-other-in-the-head-with-the-hammers, and raking-saws-across-their-foreheads and stuff — we’ll have that kind of humor, for sure.”

A year passed without any fresh news, until last fall, when MGM announced it had picked up the rights both to the Farrelly script from Warner Bros. and to the Stooges, held by C3. A release date was set for November 20, 2009. At the same time, the brothers announced they’d be holding a nationwide talent contest to cast an unknown in the role of Curly.

And then, of course, came word this week that not only was Curly likely going to be cast with Hollywood A-lister Jim Carrey , but that filming wouldn’t begin until the early fall for a release in 2010.

So there you have it. At least for now. Deals are not yet in place for Carrey or del Toro. Tune in, say, next week for the continuing saga of the Farrelly duo and their Stooges trio.

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