Ladies and gentlemen, three small cheers, please, for a good-natured, affectionate, kid-friendly and adult-friendly toast to the pretty-much long-forgotten slapstick talent that was The Three Stooges. Not what you’d expect from gross-out merchants The Farrelly Brothers. Not many laughs then? Not one to bother about?

As the Stooges themselves proved years ago, silly slapstick is a pig to make at all even remotely funny. Nowadays we’re all looking for something quite a bit more sophisticated, a whole lot cleverer, maybe much more outrageous, probably. But Sean Hayes (Will & Grace’s Jack), Will Sasso (MadTV) and Chris Diamantopoulos are somewhere approaching the region of near-brilliant as Larry, Curly and Moe, three middle-aged idiots who don’t seem to have grown up at all since their teenage selves (Lance Chantiles-Wertz, Robert Capon, Skyler Gisondo) were begging to be adopted from an orphanage run by nuns where they were left as newborn babes.

Not only are Hayes, Sasso and Diamantopoulos technically perfect in the near-impossible art of dim-witted slapstick performing, they’re also cute, loveable and actually funny, thanks to (1) being actually funny and (2) a funny script by the Farrellys and Mike Cerone.

It says a great deal for everyone’s supreme professionalism and devotion to the project that the situations and gags are continuously amusing for 90 minutes, producing a mix of titters, groans and out-loud laughs from the audience.

The affectionate, warm-hearted, unchallenging story is serviceably old-fashioned and comfortably familiar. The Stooges decide they have to finally go out into the world to raise the $830,000 needed to save the orphanage, which would otherwise have to close due to financial difficulties. This soon naturally involves them in a murder plot and gets Moe starring in a reality TV show. Of course it does. But never mind the creakingly antique plot, it’s the fun that counts as the Farrellys find a way to refresh some very ancient jokes and balance them with a few naughty ideas, slightly rude gags and sweetly suggestive humour.

As always, good work from the support cast helps: Jane Lynch’s Mother Superior, Sofia Vergara’s bosomy femme fatale Lydia, Jennifer Hudson’s tuneful Sister Rosemary and, especially, Larry David’s acidic Sister Mary Mengele. Funny people all of them.

Don’t miss it.

Derek Winnert (c) 2012