By Preston Wilder
Where to begin? Begin at the beginning – exactly 20 years ago, when Dumb and Dumber changed the face of Hollywood comedy. Older critics called it the Death of Cinema, wondering how anyone could laugh at jokes about laxatives and explosive diarrhea. Most audiences had no such qualms – and indeed, younger critics today (those who saw it as impressionable teens) seem to treat it as a modern classic, hence the keen anticipation over this belated sequel and squeals of disappointment at the sequel not ‘measuring up’ to the original.
I haven’t seen D&D in 20 years, but I think the sequel does measure up. Like the first film, it’s wilfully stupid but it has a certain something, its elusive quality amplified by the fact that Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels (as Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne) are now in their 50s, as are co-directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly. I don’t know if it’s funnier than Horrible Bosses 2 (to name another recent comedy sequel), but Bosses is machine-tooled comedy that feels like it was made solely for money whereas Dumb and Dumber To has the sense of a reunion, middle-aged men rolling back the years. Also, of course, in the interim since D&D we’ve had the Farrellys’ sweet, uncanny version of The Three Stooges, showing a fondness for vaudeville slapstick going way back. When this team do coarse humour, they’re harking back to a much-loved American tradition. When other people do coarse humour, they’re just harking back to Dumb and Dumber.
Context, in other words, is everything – a phrase Lloyd and Harry might’ve mangled into ‘concept is everything’, or ‘congress is everything’, or ‘cornflakes is everything’. The film is zany in erratic, often arbitrary ways, and malapropisms come thick and fast. “She’s the fruit of your loom,” notes Lloyd at one point, and we also get “suburban legend” and “water under the fridge”. Penny (Rachel Melvin) joins in too, saying she’d like to go to India and volunteer at one of those leprechaun colonies (“I think you mean Ireland,” corrects Lloyd gently). Penny is Harry’s long-lost daughter – the ‘fruit of his loom’ – and can give him the kidney transplant he so desperately needs, but only if the un-dynamic duo can (a) track her down and (b) follow her to a science conference, armed with a box that contains a great invention which will benefit the whole of humanity.
What’s in the box? “I think it might be a baked potato,” opines Lloyd. So how will a baked potato benefit humanity? Pause: “That’s the only part I haven’t figured out yet.” Carrey, still rubber-faced despite a few wrinkles and crow’s feet, throws himself into the project with gusto – though of course times have changed since his Ace Ventura heyday. At one point, Lloyd and Harry torment the villain by farting in his face in unison – and I’m sure that scene would’ve had me clucking in disapproval 20 years ago, but nowadays it barely even registers; we’ve seen so much worse in the likes of Jackass and Hot Tub Time Machine. Then again, Dumb and Dumber To mixes gross-out with a bracing willingness to offend absolutely everyone: you don’t get many Hollywood comedies making fun of Chinese people saying ‘wrong’ for ‘long’, not to mention gay-panic gags and gratuitous AIDS references. It’s like the Farrellys are elder statesmen now; they can afford to be fearless.
Lloyd and Harry are fearless too, in their way. Nothing fazes them, from vicious dogs to a slug of embalming fluid (“Does it have aspartame?”). They’re like 10-year-olds, unaware when something is dangerous – in fact they’re exactly (and explicitly) like 10-year-olds, which is rather annoying. It’s like what happened to Zach Galifianakis in The Hangover – in the first one he was pegged as a manchild, so the sequel had him reading teen magazines and listening to the Jonas Brothers. Lloyd and Harry should be infantile, not actual children; it’s weak (and a bit creepy) to have them building a couch fort – “No girls allowed!” – or unaware of how people have sex.
Does it matter? Not really. A cat tries meth and subsequently swings from the chandelier in Dumb and Dumber To. A parrot squawks “The horror! The horror!”. There are catheter jokes and fart jokes and randy-old-woman jokes. Lloyd laughs at the notion of a “lady doctor”, confirming – along with the ethnic humour – that the Farrellys’ comedy, for all its outrageousness, may be stuck in their own 70s childhoods. This is not a good film (bits of it are dreadful), but there’s something here – a real affection, for these characters and this musty material – especially now, 20 years after the original, when we’ve almost forgotten how the whole landscape changed. To quote our heroes: “Comedy is all about timing, Harry.”
DIRECTED BY Peter and Bobby Farrelly
STARRING Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Kathleen Turner
US 2014 109 mins