Penn, Carrey, Del Toro part of studio's plan

MGM and the Farrelly brothers are closing in on their cast for “The Three Stooges.”

Studio has set Sean Penn to play Larry, and negotiations are under way with Jim Carrey to play Curly; the actor is already making plans to gain 40 pounds to approximate the physical dimensions of Jerome “Curly” Howard.

The studio is zeroing in on Benicio Del Toro to play Moe.

MGM has delayed release of the film until some time in 2010. Pic was to have opened Nov. 20 in time for the high-profile Thanksgiving frame.

The move means that MGM has only one release so far dated for 2009: “Fame,” set to open Sept. 25. (Studio has two horror pics and one suspense title waiting for release dates.)

Three Stooges” is not a biopic but rather a comedy built around the antics of the three characters that Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Curly Howard played in the Columbia Pictures shorts.

Peter and Bobby Farrelly’s quest to harness the project spans more than a decade and three studios. They first tried at Col, again at Warner Bros. and finally at MGM, where Worldwide Motion Picture Group chair Mary Parent championed the cause, buying the WB-owned scripts and making a deal with “Stooges” rights holders C3.

Production will begin in early fall. The Farrellys, who wrote the script, are producing with their Conundrum partner Bradley Thomas and Charlie Wessler.

C3 Entertainment principals Earl and Robert Benjamin will exec produce.

Project will get under way after Penn completes the Asger Leth-directed Universal/Imagine Entertainment drama “Cartel.” He hasn’t done a comedy since the 1989 laffer “We’re No Angels.”

The Farrellys have long had their eyes on Del Toro to play Moe. Thesp, who’s coming off “Che,” showed comic chops in the Guy Ritchie-directed “Snatch.”

The surprise is the emergence of Carrey to play Curly.

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