Is it high praise to say that the low humor of “Dumb and Dumber To” is exquisitely dumb? This long-gestating, wholly unnecessary sequel to the 1994 hit will no doubt satiate fans, although this time around, the gags are a less inspired and hardly original. And ironically, the movie will do more to broaden Jeff Daniels’ appeal rather than relaunch Jim Carrey’s comedy career.
The moronic narrative has Harry Dunne (Daniels) visiting Lloyd Christmas (Carrey) at a mental health facility where he has sojourned in a catatonic state for almost the last 20 years. As revealed in the film’s trailer, Lloyd has been faking his mental break as a prank on Harry. Yes, one of the film’s rolling jokes is that Lloyd pulled the wool over his best friend’s eyes for years. When Harry asks Lloyd whether he could have just come out of the catatonic state after, say, 10 years, Lloyd says sure, but that wouldn’t have been as funny as staying that way for almost 20. So, you get the level of non-sensical humor that the infamous Farrelly brothers (who direct again here) are dishing out. It’s always dumb and worth a few giggles.
But things get a little serious when Harry tells Lloyd that he has to have a kidney transplant. And after visiting his parents to discover that he was adopted, the boys hit the road looking for Harry’s daughter, who was put up for adoption years ago. A dryly funny Kathleen Turner plays the child’s mother, who lends Harry and Lloyd an old hearse to make the journey. Set in motion is a cross country road trip comedy that has some funny comedic set-pieces but ultimately adds up to very little. The Farrellys manage to top their last two outings by going back to the well so to speak with two game actors leading the way.
And it is the performances of Carrey and particularly Daniels that make the film worth checking out. Both men have aged significantly since first donning the crazy hair and, frankly, acting like complete weirdo imbeciles. Sadly, the creepy age thing is one of the film’s misses as Lloyd pines away, sometimes disturbingly, for Harry’s 22 year old daughter. But that is the point, the Farrellys’ characters are meant to get under your skin especially as Lloyd finds ever increasing ways to annoy. Do you want to know what the most annoying thing in the world is? Lloyd is constantly ready with an answer.
Daniels is the revelation in this film, if there is one. His turn as Harry has some depth. As he uses short pauses to convey his lines, you can see the wheels turning, and it is really funny, genuinely so. The timing is masterful, if the material isn’t . And maybe Daniels’ more subdued approach is easier to appreciate because Carrey is in over-the-top mode from the get go, making wild facial and body gyrations that only Carrey can. It’s just that now, as Carrey is comfortably in his 50s, his comedic stylings are just not as fresh or dare I say sharp as they once were. We’ve kind of seen it all before from Carrey. But as he managed to do in his heavily milked Helvis opening monologue on Saturday Night Live recently, Carrey can still get the laughs. But for his semi-straight man side-kick in Daniels’ Harry, I just don’t think audiences would have been able to stomach all Carrey all the time in a picture. Compare his fine work in the horribly flawed “Kick Ass 2,” where he was probably the only thing worth watching.
The directing team of Bobby and Peter Farrelly have made low comedy an almost high art form. That contradiction isn’t an overstatement. Classic gross-out scenes from their “There’s Something About Mary” are seared into our collective cinematic memory. And the sentimental hilarity of “Kingpin” approached some kind of comedic profundity. But with “Dumb and Dumber To” they inevitably give us what we expect but with little more. Is it too much to ask that this film be dumb but also comedically transcendent at the same time? “Dumb and Dumber To” has laughs but only of the lowly dim-witted variety.