Before I go into the grinding awfulness of Dumb and Dumber To, let’s get one damn thing straight: The original Dumb and Dumber is a clasick. Along with the relatively highbrow Stepbrothers, it’s the ne plus ultra of moron slapstick, the film against which all cretinous child-men assaults on taste must be measured. The spiky, manic, abrasive Jim Carrey was exquisitely offset by the big, schlubby, amiable Jeff Daniels, and if a few of the gags went thunk (who bats 1,000?), there was a lot more art in their construction than the movie’s slapdash frames suggested. The Farrelly brothers, Peter and Bobby, turned doofusness into a state of grace. And now they’ve turned it back into a state of gracelessness. Wanna read the most annoying sound in the world? AAAEEEEEAAAEIIIIGGHHHHHEEEAAEHH.
It’s not that they didn’t try. This isn’t some cynical piece of garbage like Another 48 Hrs. Carrey and Daniels are in there working hard and almost getting their tricky rhythms back. On paper, the premise sounds more than serviceable. Harry (Daniels), who desperately needs a kidney transplant, discovers a 23-year-old postcard from an old flame telling him she’s pregnant with his baby. Said flame, Fraida Felcher (Kathleen Turner), tells Harry and Lloyd (Carrey) that she gave the baby up for adoption but has a recent photo; it shows a young woman, Penny (Rachel Melvin), who makes Lloyd’s eyeballs smoke. Lloyd convinces Harry to hit the road in search of Penny — ostensibly to ask her to donate a kidney, but more because Lloyd sees a babe who might finally displace Dumb and Dumber’s Mary Swanson. But someone else is after Penny: a killer (Rob Riggle) in league with her adopted mom (Laurie Holden), who’s slowly poisoning Penny’s adopted professor father (Steve Tom), who gives Harry and Lloyd a package for her that might be worth billions of dollars …
The script could have used another draft or two. Harry and Lloyd’s level of dumb and dumbness keeps shifting; sometimes they sound like sophisticates camping it up — unfunnily. The old gags aren’t repeated, but the Farrellys constantly invoke them, using their first film as an ongoing reference point. “Blind Billy in 4C” is all grown up and still loves birds — with disastrous consequences. We get the second-most-annoying sound in the world. (What’s annoying is how long it takes to get to the punch line.) Lame malapropisms abound: “She’s the fruit of his loom.” Lloyd fantasizes fighting off bad guys to save Penny, but it’s a pale echo of Lauren Holly’s bare bum and a throbbing heart pulled out of a ninja warrior and daintily dropped into a doggie bag. Harry puts peanut butter on his dick. Penny turns out to have inherited the Dumb gene and wants to work in a leprechaun colony. Okay, that one’s not bad (especially when Lloyd says you have to go to Ireland, not Africa, for that), but I reckon four out of every five jokes played to silence at the preview screening. If Dumb and Dumber To were a live comedian, he’d have said, “Is this an audience or an oil painting?” He’d have left the stage in tears. He’d have gone to work in a leprechaun colony.
The Farrellys have evidently unlearned what little they knew about staging and composition. (Please understand: I revere Dumb and Dumber, There’s Something About Mary, Shallow Hal, and parts of their other movies, but stylists they’re never been.) On the far side of the Farrellys’ agreeable Three Stooges remake, it’s easy to register the Stooges’ influence on Dumb and Dumber To, but the timing is off in almost every scene: You either see the joke an instant before it comes, so it’s no surprise, or an instant after it passes, so you say, “Oh, that was a joke … Gee, it stunk.” The key to Lloyd and Harry’s characters is that they’re incorrigible pranksters, that nothing comes second to hot-footing each other or someone else. But this time we feel more like the hit man played by Mike Starr in Dumb and Dumber. We want to say, “GUYS!!! ENOUGH!!!” The movie’s badness could give you an ulcer.
And yet … I came away respecting Carrey, whose eyes still glitter under his hideous bowl haircut and Daniels, who avidly jumps back into the pigpen. (Daniels might be known for a higher grade of project, but he has always credited Dumb and Dumber with keeping his movie career alive and obviously relishes the work.) Kathleen Turner is fearlessly brassy; it’s a shame she’s shot and lighted so poorly, that the Farrellys didn’t protect her. I didn’t watch thinking that Dumb and Dumber To was fated to be a disaster from its conception — only that comedy is famously hard and this particular effort didn’t pay off. I’d still get in line for Dumber and Dumbest.