Note: this review is featured on the Phoenix Film Festival’s website.
Dumb and Dumber To arrives 20 years after the original film from the Farrelly Brothers, bringing back Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrey in the leads as titular idiots Harry and Lloyd. In 2014, the landscape of everyone’s careers looks far different than before: the Farrelly Brothers started their career with Dumb and Dumber and have since made hits (There’s Something About Mary, Me, Myself, & Irene) and misses (Stuck on You, Fever Pitch). Their careers have hit a standstill and a return to the concept that put them on the scene feels like a necessary route. Daniels and Carrey have each had strangely unique trajectories, with the former positing himself as a capable lead actor in The Newsroom while the latter made iconic comedies in the late ’90s and early 2000’s before his career hit an impasse. All of these careers interweave into a narrative that feels painfully familiar to the first film but introduces enough new laughs and nostalgia to make the trip enjoyable while it lasts. Afterwards, though, your brain will probably feel as hollow as Harry and Lloyd’s.
The story picks up with Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey) sitting outside a psychiatric hospital in a wheelchair and unkempt beard. He hasn’t spoken in twenty years, and Harry Dunne (Jeff Daniels) has visited him every week for the past thousand weeks. After all, they are still best friends, even if Lloyd has let his best years go past him. Turns out it has all been a prank, though, and both of them are beyond impressed that it lasted as long as it did. If it would’ve only gone five or ten years, it simply wouldn’t have had the same impact. The story then has the characters move through the settings of the first film, observe what has changed, and spurs another narrative that feels all too similar structurally to its predecessor: the characters carry a package around the country while people who want said package chase after them, leading to misunderstandings, deaths, and everything else that could feel like familiar plot points. This time, though, the guys talk with their high school romance, Fraida Flecher (Kathleen Turner), who reveals that she had a daughter 20+ years ago after Harry reads a letter that she left at his parents’ house. Thinking the daughter must be his, the men trek across country to meet her at the Ken Convention (a spoof on TED Talks) in El Paso.
There’s some impressively inventive humor on display, particularly in timeliness and sly turns on recognizable jokes from the first film. Harry’s roommate, for instance, cooks meth but Harry thinks he’s just a great scientist who has made a rock candy that has people coming from all over the country; it’s a set-up that recalls Breaking Bad‘s homemade cooking and accentuates just how moronic these men can be. A joke about comedic timing shows the grasp that the Farrelly Brothers and Co. have on how to time a joke. Yet there are some strange edits that miss the mark on timing: a joke about Fraida’s old back tattoo has the camera zoom in on her young physique in a flashback, only for the next shot to jarringly cut to an open shot with all of the characters before they look at her tattoo. Wouldn’t a quick jump to the new tattoo have been more effective? There are some terrific jokes at the Ken Convention itself as Harry is mistaken for an award-winning scientist, and a hilariously quiet punch at new food fusion places as Lloyd and Harry’s presumed daughter, Penny (Rachel Melvin), eat at a Chinese-Mexican restaurant while Penny eats a tortilla chip with chopsticks. It’s absurd, oddly effective humor.
Yet for every joke that makes intelligent social critiques, there’s a backwards-minded, offensive retort relating to race or gender. If I recall correctly, Harry and Lloyd were not nearly as offensively racist or sexist in the original film as they are here; they have seemingly gotten more mean-spirited and spiteful as the years have gone along, losing a lot of their likability in exchange for bitterness. A joke regarding Harry’s adoptive parents makes a joke about them being Asian-Americans; while that doesn’t seem as harmful as it could have been, the fact that the scenes make a joke of Lloyd laughing at how they speak is horribly unfunny. Another moment when Lloyd makes a quip about women not being able to be scientists but instead deserving to be housewives feels grating and serious to the character. He’s attempting to make small talk, but instead offends others and humiliates himself. Despite many of those focusing on Carrey’s character, he’s the better actor for the work here; Daniels feels as if his career has taken away his ability to pull off slapstick humor, and much of his work feels exaggerated and silent film-esque. The Farrelly Bros. deliver a film that will undoubtedly please fans of the original, and provides substantial laughs. Yet Dumb and Dumber To, ultimately, feels unnecessary and far more off-putting than it should.
Grade:★★★ (out of 5)