Of any movies to be getting the “long overdue sequel” treatment, “Dumb and Dumber” is one of the more unlikely candidates. When the film was released just shy of 20 years ago, it made $250 million internationally on a budget of just $17 million and was caught in the whirlwind of hype and excitement that accompanied the meteoric rise of comedian Jim Carrey —to put this in perspective, it was released the same year as Carrey’s other breakout movies, “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” and “The Mask.” In the time since, a dopey animated series and even-dopier prequel were released, both without the consent or creative involvement of Carrey, co-star Jeff Daniels and co-writers/directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly, but questions about a follow-up remained. Now, “Dumb and Dumber To” is upon us, and it is such a vile, tragically unfunny pile of garbage that we want to stand on a soapbox and point at every passerby or journalist who bugged Daniels or Carrey about a sequel over the years and shout “see! This is what you asked for, for so long! Now you have it and look!”
In its opening moments, it’s hard not to get the sensation that Carrey, Daniels and the Farrellys have actually found a way back into the warped, whirligig universe of the first film. Harry Dunne (Daniels) visits his best friend Lloyd Christmas (Carrey) at a Rhode Island mental institution, just like he has every week for the past twenty years. After the events of the first film, Lloyd has become so brokenhearted that he’s gone catatonic. He sits in a wheelchair, mute and dressed in infantile pajamas and sporting a beard that would make Rasputin gasp in jealousy. It’s only when Harry gets closer that Lloyd finally speaks: “Gotcha!” “You wasted the best years of your life on a gag?” Harry asks. Lloyd nods approvingly. Then Harry rips his catheter out. Welcome back, folks.
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What follows is an unnecessarily convoluted road picture that follows the first movie beat-for-beat. In addition to the road trip aspect, there’s the central conceit that the guys are chasing a woman (in this case Harry’s long lost daughter Penny, played by soap opera ingénue Rachel Melvin, who he believes can supply him with a new kidney). There’s also an incredibly forced criminal element to the main plot, this time involving Penny’s stepmother (Laurie Holden) and a pair of bumbling, thuggish brothers (both played by an underused Rob Riggle) who are desperate to get their hands on a priceless invention (don’t ask). Everything plays out exactly as it did 20 years ago, although with much less freshness and a tragic lack of effective humor.
Part of the problem is that Carrey (who is now 52) and Daniels (who is almost 60) are far too old for these roles, and just looking at the same dumb-ass facial expressions on faces crisscrossed with wrinkles isn’t funny as much as it is sad. They were overgrown man-children 20 years ago; this time around, their performances are less physically dynamic and intellectually unhinged. There’s a feeling of desperation in their performances, especially when they are parroting a line from the first film or having to bumble through this obnoxious dialogue and clumsy wordplay (it should be noted the screenplay is credited to six writers, including both Farrellys).
The gags just aren’t as funny this time around and nothing ever rises above mild amusement. Much of the last act is centered around a TED-like technological conference, which seemingly offers a lot of possibilities given the fact that it’s a buzzing hive of intelligence being crashed by a couple of characters whose brainwaves barely qualify them as vegetables. But the movie stays at a low simmer; nothing ever gets too out of control. And for the first time in either movie, the humor turns decidedly more mean-spirited. In the original film, they were goofballs, sometimes in advertently harmful and chaotic ways, but always with a childlike sweetness. When a female doctor stands on stage and the duo yells “show us your tits!” the entire ecosystem of jovial foolishness starts to crumble, especially when it’s followed by the pair mocking a wheelchair-bound physicist who talks with the aid of a computer program (a la Stephen Hawking).
Oddly enough, the one bright ray of sunshine in “Dumb and Dumber To,” one that is all too fleeting, is Kathleen Turner. She plays an old lover of Harry’s, who gave birth to his daughter and who they contact when Harry begins his search for his replacement kidney. And she is easily the most enjoyable thing about the movie. She is gruff and inhospitable; the years have not been kind. But unlike Carrey and Daniels, the spark that made her such an alluring screen icon is still present. It flickers in her eyes and is audible when she speaks, her famous throaty purr more gravelly than it once was, but still effective and singularly hers. She’s funny, even when given precious little to do. The other potential highlight of the film was the score by glittery Australian pop band Empire of the Sun; unfortunately most of their music has been removed. Instead, get ready to hear the same grating Franz Ferdinand song three times.
It’s wrong to expect something deep from a movie called “Dumb and Dumber To.” There aren’t any pressing thematic or cultural concerns that will be explored in a movie that is willing to be silly but never pushes itself to be really absurd. For a while, the Farrelly Brothers could make extreme comedy palpable for the masses while not cheating the emotional undercurrents of their films with easy-to-grasp gross out gag (with films like “There’s Something About Mary” and “Kingpin“). But in recent years, the ratio has been off, and their movies have been either exclusively saccharine or just off-putting and disgusting. “Dumb and Dumber To” is their attempt to get back into their groove, but everything feels off and, worse than that, safe. The original film was unpredictable and loose and every so often gave up the aura of dangerousness. If anything, the sequel is a tepid, watered down, and at 100-minutes oftentimes boring attempt to recapture the magic but without any of the whimsy. If anything, “Dumb and Dumber To” should have been, well, dumber. Right now it’s just painful. But hey, over the past 20 years, you asked for it. And you got it. [F]