Credit the Farrelly Brothers with this much: given Hollywood’s toxic insistence on character arcs, life lessons, and labored backstories, it’s kind of a relief to discover their signature morons haven’t changed in the slightest. The world may have moved on since “dumb happened,” but Harry and Lloyd remain wonderfully oblivious, and Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrey—59 and 52, respectively—have somehow managed to rekindle the infantile chemistry that made these fools so beloved.
Comedy is about timing, however—as the film’s opening scene makes explicit—and this 20-years-later sequel to 1994’s fondly remembered Dumb and Dumber seems to exist for little reason other than to cash nostalgia checks and bolster its creators’ waning fortunes. It’s why that first scene might be the movie’s best, because it acknowledges the creative bankruptcy at play. If you’ve seen the trailer, you already know it: Lloyd (Carrey), apparently catatonic in a wheelchair for two decades, surprises Harry (Daniels) by revealing his condition to be one almighty gag, forcing his hapless buddy to worry about him (and wipe his ass) for years in the wake of a long-forgotten spat over a girl. It elegantly accounts for lost time, immediately reestablishes the characters, and—deliberately or not—exposes the movie that follows as a grand version of the joke at the expense of the audience. The characters haven’t changed, great—but neither has the plot, comedy, or execution.
In this sense, Dumb and Dumber To is a sequel done the old-fashioned way: a replica of the first movie with a new, shoddy paint-job, designed to give its audience exactly the same experience and hope they’ll not mind buying the same thing again. Like the first, it’s a road movie punctuated by random asides and saddled with a rickety crime plot designed to move the story—a familiar crutch of ’80s comedy (and parodied beautifully in Pineapple Express), from which the original movie itself carried over elements. (It already felt like a throwback in a summer of Pulp Fiction.)
This time, Harry, in need of a new kidney, joins Lloyd in a cross-country search for the former’s now-twentysomething daughter Penny (Rachel Melvin), who was long ago adopted out by her birth mother, Fraida Felcher (Kathleen Turner, being a goddamned trooper in the face of some lousy fat jokes). Harry and Lloyd are again pursued by some swindling types caught up in an effort to take down Penny’s adoptive father, a genius scientist who’s dispatched his daughter to an egghead convention in El Paso where the movie regurgitates its predecessor’s beats. The plot’s incidental, of course, but it’s weirdly convoluted—after all, it’s not like anyone remembers the story from the first film—and results in plenty of perfunctory jokes at the expense of the superior, tangential stuff.
To be sure, no one’s expecting Lubitsch here, but was it too much to ask for a little originality? For the occasional big laughs—and they’re in there, though none the equal of ’94’s—there’s an alarming degree of laziness on display. The degree to which gags are simply copied and pasted—some for cute callbacks, others for an apparent lack of anything better—is problematic, especially when it makes the original bits seem more formulaic than they were.
Worse, the Farrellys’ depiction of women—as dimwitted babes, scheming bitches, old ladies waiting to be fingered, or “titanic whores”—has gone from a tolerable reflection of their characters’ mental deficiencies to outright creepiness. Would it have hurt to have a funny actress on board instead of, say, the millionth supporting comedy goon played by Rob Riggle? (It’s no comfort to find Sean Anders, director of the wildly misogynist That’s My Boy, was in on the screenwriting brodown.)
If it’s ultimately hard to hate Dumb and Dumber To, that’s mostly down to Carrey and Daniels. As per the first, they’re both generous comedic performers, and there’s no sense of either phoning this one in as a favor to their directors, nor showing up for some easy money. Years spent back in middlebrow acclaim in the likes of The Newsroom have done nothing to dim the idiotic energy Daniels summons again here; as for Carrey, he’s lost none of his remarkable gift, even as time gradually turns him into the most aged-looking 10-year-old. Yet it’s hard not feel for the one-time comic superstar. Having hit a thrilling sweet spot with the late-’90s trifecta of The Cable Guy, The Truman Show, and Man on the Moon, it feels like he’s been adrift ever since, his enormous talent suffering at the hands of broad comedies and thankless “serious” roles. It’s a little deflating to see Carrey have to resort to trotting this routine out at this point in his career, however well he does it.
Perhaps the worst that can be said of this reunion is the light in which it risks recasting the original. If Dumb and Dumber’s Harry and Lloyd were the cherished goofball uncles who always lit up your party as a kid, then seeing them again all these years later is like finding out they were actually deadbeats, drunks, and—per one of this sequel’s wobblier subplots—cradle-robbers all along. Then again, as one highly entertained little kid said to her equally unimpressed mother after the screening: “It’s called Dumb and Dumber—what did you expect?”
Originally published at Movie Mezzanine.