Friday, November 14, 2014

Dumb Again: DUMB AND DUMBER TO


Now that the twenty-year-old comedy Dumb and Dumber has a sequel, it’s perhaps better to think of the pair as harkening back to the comedy teams of Hollywood’s first half-century, and not just because writer-directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly made a (pretty good) Three Stooges movie in the interim. Like the Stooges, the Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello, W.C. Fields, Martin and Lewis, and the rest made films that often had plots held together by tape and wishful thinking, really just an excuse for likeable and familiar character types to do their thing. The problem with Dumb and Dumber To from where I sit is simply that I never liked the dummies. Some of the antics Harry (Jeff Daniels) and Lloyd (Jim Carrey) get into – casual misunderstandings, juvenile pranks, ridiculous tunnel vision – are funny, but on the whole they’re a couple of creepy guys who spend the entire first film essentially trying to stalk a woman across the country. I’ve never found it all that entertaining.

The new film goes down easier, maybe because the guys are in their late 50s and what was creepy and off-putting for younger dummies looks almost endearing when it’s a couple of slower, sweeter older guys. (Almost. Sometimes.Carrey puts on the bowl cut and chipped tooth while Daniels makes his hair a tousled mess as they step right back into the rumpled outfits of Harry and Lloyd. They’re just as dumb as ever, but this time the woman they’re stumbling across the country to find is Harry’s long-lost grown daughter (Rachel Melvin). It’s not quite as creepy a prospect, since the man’s in desperate need of a kidney replacement and thinks she’d be a match. He just learned about her existence that day, but, hey, he needs to make up for lost time. There’s an unfortunate subplot about Lloyd having the hots for the twenty-something’s picture, but at least it’s not the central engine of plot here.

So To is a little less gross in that respect, though there’s still a whiff of sexism here and there. But in the realm of the gross out gag, the Farrely brothers make a bid to retain their throne. Their eagerness to offend with the lowest of lowbrow is what makes them so cheerfully funny at their best, so deathly disgusting at worst. There’s nothing here as funny as There’s Something About Mary’s hair gel or Hall Pass’s fart joke, which is among the greatest in cinema history, though I must confess my memory about such things isn’t the best. What Dumber To is is staggeringly dirty, taking the PG-13 so much farther then I ever thought possible. That’s a dubious honor. The Farrelys take the rating system, stretch it, bend it, break it, toss it out the window, and pee on it. Sometimes it’s over the line in a way I begrudgingly respected, but not reliably.

This is a movie that makes use of several types of bodily fluids, adolescent entendres, and anatomical hijinks. At one point there’s a dream sequence in which Lloyd imagines defeating a ninja by using a bullwhip to rip off his opponent’s testicles, which he then holds up with a gloating grin. You could hear the disbelief in the audience. But then, I was the one cackling when a guy gets run over by a train, and when a blind man finds something horribly gory has happened to his exotic birds. So you win some, you lose some, I suppose. A few times, I laughed so hard I questioned my sanity. The rest of the time I questioned the filmmakers. It’s hit and miss.

The movie contains a helpful metaphor for what’s so essentially wrong with it. There’s a scene in which Harry and Lloyd stumble upon the furry dog-shaped vehicle that they gave away in the first film. They’re happy to see it, and it’s nice to see a familiar sight, even if it’s not as good as they remembered. They take off down the road, and the whole thing falls apart instantly. Just like the movie itself, which takes a familiar sight and proceeds to fall apart the instant the rubber hits the road. It doesn’t hang together as a movie. It barely hangs together as a collection of gags and jokes. But what is pleasant and often funny is the Farrely’s commitment and enjoyment in constructing their goofy anything-goes moments, reveling in the dumbness. We could use more of that prime brightly lit, good-natured Farrely slapstick vulgarity in comedies today. That, not the dummies, is what I responded to seeing on the big screen again. Well, that and Kathleen Turner, who has a small role, and is a welcome sight.

A real mixed bag, Dumb and Dumber To at least held my interest. Even when I felt my frustration rising at its more derisible moments, I was only fleetingly grumpy about it. I could sit through some weak patches to get to the better tomfoolery. It’s a buyer-beware sort of movie, not good enough to recommend, but hard to avoid giving the wink and the nod to the people who just might find the bad worth braving to see this brand of humor. It’s certainly not for everyone. Take the couple sitting behind me whose date went south fast as the movie played. I reproduce the best of their argument below for your benefit, since it’s a shame this won’t be available as a bonus audio track come time for the home video release.

She: “This is awful!”
He: “Shhhh!”
She:  “Don’t hush me. This is friggin’ filthy!”

She stormed out and he, as far as I could tell, sat through the rest of the movie.

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