“To” Funny or “Two” Little “To” Late?
Director: BOBBY FARRELLY, PETER FARRELLY/2014
Jim Carrey was in a hotel about 5 years ago, as he tells the story, when the original Dumb and Dumber film began showing on the television. After watching it again, he felt compelled to reach out to the Farrelly Brothers (Peter and Bobby) to see if they might try to finally do a sequel all of these years later. The result of their collective efforts is Dumb and Dumber To.
In full disclosure, I admit that I am a fan of the first film. It is a modern day comedy classic and really cemented the trademark Farrelly Brothers signature: crass humor with a sweat underbelly. This can especially be seen in Ben Stiller’s character, Ted, in the Farrelly Brother’s classic comedy, There’s Something About Mary. Ted had about every bad thing go wrong to him, but he maintained an innocence and decency about him regardless of what was happening around him. Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey) and Harry Dunne (Jeff Daniels) are much the same. Despite causing all kinds of chaos around them, which they are oblivious to, they still seem to hold onto a certain goodness and a hope that things will always get better. It is what allowed you to laugh at their shenanigans without feeling bad.
What is strange is how you felt they had this sweetness, but really they were quite cruel to one another. From whacking each other with tuxedo canes to pouring ex-lax into the other’s drink to get back at him, much of their behavior was quite mean spirited. Yet it always felt more in the vein of the antics of The Three Stooges than any maliciousness they might possess. And so when we last left them, they were picking up their lives having lost the money, and the girl. Yet they still felt like their break would come.
Flash forward 20 years later, and we find that Lloyd has been in a catatonic state in a mental hospital for these past two decades. Harry continues to visit him each week, acting as a true friend. The film begins with Lloyd finally speaking only to tell Harry that the whole thing was an elaborate prank. The rest of the film vacillates between moments of true hilarity (of the dumbest variety) and the feeling that, like Harry, we’ve been duped by an elaborate prank.
Let me say a huge qualifier: If you hated the first film, then there is no way you will ever find this one funny. Whatever made the original movie “dumb” in your eyes will only double here. So movie-goers beware. On the other hand, if you liked the first film, then the 20 year wait for an unexpected sequel will probably be a mixed bag for you.
Dumb and Dumber To’s basic plot involves Harry needing a kidney transplant. When he finds out he has an unexpected daughter with Fraida Felcher, who is played by Kathleen Turner, Harry and Lloyd head out on the road to track her down….so that she can donate a kidney to her deadbeat, biological dad, not so they can be reunited.
What happens on the journey is where the comedic efforts are executed to varying degrees of success. Given that this type of humor is, well…dumb, it is no surprise that it involves a lot of bodily fluids and functions, and some physical sight gags. Jim Carrey brings back some funny physical humor by creating a whole new way of eating a hot dog where the bun is the napkin. There is also the typical sexually based gross-out moments that are staples of Peter and Bobby Farrelly. One particular example involves an elderly woman in a nursing home. But most of what is attempted here are throwbacks to the original film and not necessarily new gags.
Looking for what is familiar, we get to see their old/current apartment, Billy the blind kid and his exotic birds, another road trip, a passenger on their trip who has bad intentions toward them, and the return of the Mutts Cutts doggy van. Some of these work well, but sadly much of it feels forced as if the Farrellys are trying too hard to remind us how much fun the original film was. This desire to honor the original in many ways is the shackle weighing this one down. Too many jokes are created to be in the vein of what we laughed at before, but to set up these gags, it sacrifices the storyline’s ability to grow these characters beyond the nostalgic remembrances we have from 20 years ago. Without a compelling character arc helping us to want to invest in their characters after all of these years, it means that the only thing we are truly invested in is our own nostalgia.
I also think that comedy has changed so much since Dumb and Dumber debuted in 1994. When it first came on the scene, the “crass vulgarity with a sweet spirit” angle was pretty fresh and boundary pushing. Jim Carrey was universally loved for his over-the-top personas, and physical pratfalls. But now, comedies are just crass, even if they try to resurrect a “sweet” lesson at the end. Physical humor and slapstick are comedic tools of a bygone era.
Ironically, the modern comedy is still taking its cues from the likes of Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary, but they’ve imitated it too often, that now any attempt to return to the old way of doing things looks like a cheap rip-off.
Finally, the tone in the new film is much darker, especially as the two main stars seem to be much more mean-spirited than before. They lack the empathy they had for Mary Swanson in the first film, and now simply insult large cross-sections of the population (immigrants, people with AIDS, etc.), not out of being dumb, but just being plain ignorant.
In the end, Dumb and Dumber To will induce some minor laughs and will make you feel good about seeing Harry and Lloyd off on another harebrained scheme, but mostly it will just induce impatience. With a nearly 2 hour running time, some of the newer jokes results in a lot of “checking the time”, especially when the “new” jokes are just recycled “old” jokes. Rob Riggle (21 Jump Street, The Hangover) has some fun playing two parts in the film and serves as a great foil for Lloyd and Harry’s pranks.
Seeing Lloyd and Harry back together again was a fantastic trip down memory lane, and I even laughed some of the way. The overall experience, however, was marginally just “o.k”. I think that the best way to enjoy the antics of these two guys is much like how Jim Carrey did it 5 years before: by rewatching the original in all of its comedic glory on your television.