With Dumb and Dumber To, the memorable comedy duo of Harry Dunne (Jeff Daniels) and Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey) return to the silver screen for the first time since 1994. It’s hard to know how to follow up a slapstick film that was last relevant in another century, but playing your closing credits scenes from the original movie side by side with scenes from the new one is not a good idea. It’s quite possibly the worst thing you could do. Other than making the movie in the first place.
In the 20 years since we last met Harry and Lloyd, Lloyd has passed the time in a mental institution in a catatonic state. After revealing this to be an epic gag, he and Harry reunite to go on another adventure, this time involving Harry’s dying kidneys and his bastard daughter Penny (Rachel Melvin), who was adopted by rich scientist Dr. Pinchelow (Steve Tom) and his scheming wife Adele (Laurie Holden). Thankfully, this isn’t played as depressingly as it could be. Over the needlessly extended 110 minute running time, we get a MacGuffin, a mistaken identity storyline, another murder plot (this time with the omnipresent Rob Riggle as twin assassins), and a bunch of other tropes that you’d expect. And, of course, plenty of fart jokes. Along with Daniels and Carrey, original co-writers/co-directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly (commonly known as the Farrelly Brothers), who have been on a perpetual downswing since There’s Something About Mary in 1998, have also come back to helm and co-write (with four other writers) this second installment.
The best adjective I could use to describe Dumb and Dumber To is “slow.” Not in the politically incorrect way, but more in the overall feel of the movie. Although they try their best to reignite their chemistry, Carrey and Daniels noticeably lack the manic energy that made the first movie stand out. Not that it’s entirely their fault, no more than you can blame them for aging, anyways. The energy of 30-somethings is much different than that of 50-somethings, particularly considering how Daniels has never really done much in the slapstick genre beyond Dumber and even Carrey, arguably the greatest physical comedian of the past 20 years, has severely reduced this element of his repertoire.
Moreover, age brings wisdom, and the two actors, both of whom have had relative success in dramatic roles, have too much self-awareness and intelligence to truly pull off the empty boneheadness necessary for these parts. They possess a kind of knowingness that makes jokes come across more mean than ignorant and makes it unclear if the butts are meant to be the titular imbeciles or their victims. Again, a lot of this comes from the natural process of aging, but by taking so long before striking this iron for a second time, we never had the opportunity to get accustomed to Daniels and Carrey’s gradually decreasing speed and increasing capabilities. Thus, we get a film that is somewhat disconcerting, particularly for those who are expecting the actors’ 1994 selves.
The movie also moves along very slowly in terms of narrative pace. It seems to take a needlessly long time before the plot kicks in and Harry and Lloyd get on the road again; even then, the movie never travels at a brisk pace. I generally appreciate when movies take their time to let us get re-acclimated to the world and the characters, but this is not the type of film for that. Along with neither character changing at all in the past 20 years, the more important problem is that we don’t really want to “spend time” with them. We just want to watch them be idiotic. Trying to give this film some pretense of a layered plot, specious though the attempt is, only comes across as disingenuous.
Even the delivery of jokes is slow. Comedies that take their time with jokes and allow the buildup and resolution to happen in due course are a precious breed, but once again, it’s not a strategy that’s suitable for this type of film. Gag comedy requires more of a “get in/get out quickly” style of joke telling, a punchiness that lets the film keep moving onto the next gag. But a lot of the gags in Dumb and Dumber To take too much time to play out, which leads to them lying there and finally dying before they hit their all-too-obvious punchline. And sure, padding is common in pretty much any comedy, but the comic set pieces should either be integrated better or be funny enough where we wouldn’t care how irrelevant they are to the movie as a whole. Dumb and Dumber To fails both prongs.
Even ignoring the pacing, the gags themselves aren’t all that funny. There are particularly egregious pop culture references to Breaking Bad and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo in a pathetically desperate attempt to seem relevant. Strange use of over-the-top Asian and Canadian stereotypes. Call backs to the original movie, for sure. And, of course, plenty of fart jokes. Everything is on the surface and very few things come out of left field. But then again, that’s probably what you’d want in a film like this, isn’t it?
I was a fan of Dumb and Dumber when it first came out, but admittedly, it’s more than possible that time has made this kind of base humor lose its appeal for me. (To give an indication of where I’m coming from, my favorite comedy so far this year was They Came Together.) But this type of resurrection doesn’t necessarily need to be a bad thing either. When Beavis and Butt-head started airing new episodes in 2011 after a 14 year hiatus, I found the new installments to successfully capture what I loved about the show originally while bringing it into the new century without necessarily “modernizing” it. But Dumb and Dumber To is no Beavis and Butt-head, and the stagnant Farrelly Brothers are no constantly evolving Mike Judge. Maybe something this juvenile isn’t for me, but even with the PG-13 rating, I have to assume that I’m the target audience for this film because of its utter reliance on the nostalgia factor. After all, it’s hard to imagine today’s youths gravitating to two hours of 50 year olds trying to be goofy.
The Verdict: 1 out of 5
Time makes fools of us all…except the foolish, who just look sad. While I feel comfortable saying that Dumb and Dumber To at least tries to capture some of the original’s spirit, it nevertheless comes across as a relic of a bygone era of humor. Sometimes this can work if you’re watching an older film or a well-done homage to an older genre, but in this instance it just seems out of touch. For people who want to see a genuinely funny modern movie about two idiots on a quest, Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie is presently streaming on Netflix.