If I say that Dumb and Dumber To is a mindless, juvenile, stupid movie, is that a criticism or an endorsement? It certainly seems a little pointless to say that it's dumb. The first Dumb and Dumber film isn't quite the slapstick classic its reputation suggests, but it succeeded due to the fact that its stars were so willing to do so many ridiculous things with so much enthusiasm. The sequel (arriving a whopping twenty years later) employs a lot of same techniques, but it's inferior for the same reason that most comedy sequels are inferior: not enough loogie burgers. Yeah, that must be it.
So, what have Harry (Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom) and Lloyd (Jim Carrey, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) been up to since we last checked in on them? Surprisingly little. Lloyd has spent the past twenty years in a psychiatric hospital, where he has essentially become a vegetable. For two decades, Harry has visited Lloyd on a weekly basis: bringing him gifts, changing his diaper, talking to him and continuing to hold out hope that Lloyd will recover his sanity. One day, at long last, Lloyd brings his twenty-year silence to an end with a single word: “GOTCHA!” Yes, Lloyd wasted a large portion of his life for the sake of an elaborate prank. Somehow, this is one of the film's more convincing plot elements.
After the prologue reunites these two morons, we get to the film's silly plot: Harry needs a new kidney, and his only hope for survival is to track down Penny, (Rachel Melvin, Zombeavers) the long-lost daughter he's never met. She's family – she'd be willing to give up a kidney, right? Ah, but it turns out that Penny is the adopted daughter of Dr. Bernard Pinchelow (Steve Tom, The Guilt Trip), an esteemed scientist who claims to have just invented something that will change the world. What is it? That's a secret, but Dr. Pinchelow assures his wife Adele (Laurie Holden, The Walking Dead) that it's worth billions of dollars. However, Dr. Pinchelow is feeling too ill to bring the device to an upcoming scientific convention, so he asks Penny to introduce the device for him. Meanwhile, Adele and her illicit lover Travis (Rob Riggle, The Daily Show) devise a plan to blah blah blah plot plot plot plot plot.
The story is a prime example of what Roger Ebert dubbed “the idiot plot” (definition: “a plot which is kept in motion solely by virtue of the fact that everyone involved is an idiot”), but it's hard to be too bothered by that in a movie that is very clearly about idiots. The plot is merely a clothesline for The Farrelly Brothers to hang their jokes on. The problem is that most of the jokes are fairly lame – there's nothing as good as the parrot gag from the original, though the movie certainly makes more than one attempt to offer new versions of that gag.
A while back, I had the pleasure of attending a screening of Kingpin (my favorite Farrelly Brothers film) followed by a Q&A with the Farrellys. I was struck by what down-to-earth, good-natured guys they seemed to be, and by how modest their career goals were. “All we've ever wanted to do is to make a movie as funny as Airplane!” Peter said. They haven't quite gotten there, but the spirit of that film is certainly present in almost everything they've made. They have the same willingness to go absolutely anywhere for the sake of a laugh, no matter how broad or ridiculous or out-of-left-field that laugh may be. That hasn't changed, but it's been a while since they made a movie where the hits outweighed the misses (in fairness, it's been even longer for the Zuckers). Dumb and Dumber To has the exact same tone and attitude as its predecessor, it just doesn't have as many good bits.
Of course, comedy is an incredibly subjective thing, so maybe you'll laugh more than I did. Fans of broad gross-out humor will certainly get their fill, as you get gags involving everything from toxic farts to nose bubbles to vaginal dust to colostomy bags. I suppose there's humor to be found in all of these things, but Dumb and Dumber To usually goes for the dullest, most obvious gag. Even the moments that work tend to undercut themselves with extra beats that push things too far (the prime example that comes to mind is a pretty terrific gag involving a cat, immediately followed by a lame gag involving a CG-enhanced cat fart).
You have to give the actors credit for being so willing to embarrass themselves. Daniels is a smart actor with quick instincts, but he once again inhabits a near brain-dead buffoon with slightly alarming persuasiveness. Carrey does the sort of wild mugging Carrey has always done, which will undoubtedly amuse those who like his brand of silliness (I tend to prefer him as a dramatic actor). I feel like a special “good sport” award ought to go to Kathleen Turner (Body Heat), who permits herself to be the butt of a host of insulting jokes about her appearance. Much like the first film, Dumb and Dumber To seems eager to make every tasteless joke it can think of. I'd probably admire the spirit of the thing more if the tastelessness were more imaginative.
I was all prepared to write Dumb and Dumber To off as a forgettable misfire when something interesting happened. Things take a sharp left turn in the third act, as a twist involving one of the supporting characters leads to an action sequence that's both genuinely exciting and ridiculously funny. By the time it concluded, I was doubled over in my seat, gasping for breath and marveling at the way a film so clunky had suddenly transformed into something so preposterously brilliant. There are moments near the end worth of Charlie Chaplin and Preston Sturges, along with a surprisingly emotional conversation between Harry and Lloyd that is all but guaranteed to bring tears to your eyes.
GOTCHA! Haha, nah, it's all dumb.
Dumb and Dumber To
Rating: ★½ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 109 minutes
Release Year: 2014