Thursday, November 13, 2014

Crash Test Dummies: "Dumb and Dumber To" sporadically funny but not worth the wait


Dumb and Dumber To (2014)
109 min., rated PG-13.

The pitch for a belated sequel to 1994's "Dumb and Dumber" with the participation of Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, as well as directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly, came with a mixture of worried trepidation and ridiculously giddy excitement. Now that the painful, ill-conceived 2003 bomb of a "Muppet Babies"-style prequel, "Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd," is nothing but a footnote that we can pretend never happened, we can focus on "Dumb and Dumber To," a project twenty years in the making with the old crew back. It was certainly lightning in a bottle the first time around because the return of Harry Dunne and Lloyd Christmas just makes one want to watch that classic-of-sorts again. If that smartly stupid-funny, endlessly quotable, and surprisingly endearing 1994 hit (the Farrellys' feature debut) was comic gold, this 2014 sequel gets the bronze for throwing so much at the wall, including plenty of the moronic duo's "greatest hits," that the hit-and-miss whole ends up being just funny enough. Can nostalgia cloud a smarter, wiser person's judgment to just sit back and laugh? At times. Was it worth the wait? Not so much.

The passing of time has not made Harry (Jeff Daniels) and Lloyd (Jim Carrey) any smarter. For 20 years since Mary Swanson got away, Lloyd has sat catatonic at a psychiatric hospital in Providence, Rhode Island, while best buddy Harry has visited him every day. It turns out Lloyd was faking all along and the joke is on Harry. Returning to their apartment, Harry lets Lloyd in on the news that he needs a kidney transplant. From there, they make a stop at Harry's house to receive a postcard that he never opened, only to find that his one-time fling, Fraida Felcher (Kathleen Turner), had a daughter and she might be his. Based on Harry's photo of his daughter, Lloyd is instantly in love, too. Naturally, the two dummies go on a cross-country road to find Penny (Rachel Melvin), who was adopted by dying genius billionaire Dr. Pinchelow (Steve Tom) and his conniving, gold-digging wife, Adele (Laurie Holden). Once Harry and Lloyd stop by the Pinchelow residence, Penny's adoptive father gives them a special package containing a world-changing, billion-dollar invention that the dim Penny forgot on her way to give a speech at a conference in El Paso, but Adele sends gardener Travis (Rob Riggle), also her secret lover, to do away with them along the way. 

Written by the Farrelly brothers and Bennett Yellin, Sean Anders & John Morris (2013's "We're the Millers") and Mike Cerrone (2012's "The Three Stooges")—yes, this many writers usually proves to be disastrous—"Dumb and Dumber To" is certainly not free of big, uproarious laughs, but it feels out of touch from the earlier film. Sure, the film is consistently full of callbacks. There are musical cues to Apache Indian's "Boom Shak a Lak." Blind neighbor Billy (Brady Bluhm) is still around with his pretty birds. The Mutt Cutts van reappears. Lloyd says, "I like it a lot," and later spritzes Biance breath freshener in his mouth but misses. We get to hear the "second most annoying sound in the world." Oddly enough, the episodic plot pretty much hits the same beats as the first film, and even the Farrellys' own 2012 big-screen incarnation of "The Three Stooges." When Jim Carrey (in his bowl cut and chipped tooth) and Jeff Daniels first played Lloyd and Harry, they certainly played stupid man-children, but they actually existed in a grounded reality. This time, they are full-on cartoons, mistaking a mailing address for a return address and having zero human decency, but the actors still give it all they got, picking back up with the characters they honed and frantically mugging for the camera constantly. As Lloyd, Carrey fires on all cylinders with his rubbery shtick in so many of the inspired throwaway bits (the way he wolfs down a mustard-covered hotdog down his throat and scares a busload of children in the back of a hearse both come to mind), but there is a distinct lack of sweetness to this childish character now. Daniels, unfairly known as "the other guy" after the first film's release, is a sliver more charming and willing to be pushed around by his co-star and look stupid for a laugh (and he still has no problem baring his crack apparently). 

Well beyond dumb and politically incorrect, "Dumb and Dumber To" is also scattershot and even mean-spirited around the edges. While the movie does have a handful of verbal puns, sight gags, and slapstick humor that fly, based on Carrey and Daniels' commitment, a number of gags fall to the floor, the opening catheter gag for instance. The Farrellys are better than racial stereotypes, but they make Lloyd racist toward Harry's adoptive Asian parents, laughing at the mother's "gibberish" and joking, "Love you long time." There is also a cringe-inducingly creepy, tastelessly unfunny gross-out gag in which our heroes break into a nursing home bedroom with an old woman in bed, only for Lloyd to stick his hands under the covers and get them stuck in a "turkey," if you get my drift. Even a bit with a dog licking peanut butter off of someone's privates tries to offend, but it earns a groan. Playing Fraida Felcher (whose name was dropped in the first film), poor Kathleen Turner deserves a good sport award, considering she's the butt of a few mean jokes directed at her appearance (Lloyd mistakes her for a man and comments on her "blowfish jowls") and the character's history of being a "titanic whore." The fetching Rachel Melvin is game and adorably goofy as Penny Pinchelow, who has her dad's genes in air-headedness. For once, Rob Riggle is actually more amusing here than usual, playing twin siblings, one of whom is a Black Ops operative who can be a chameleon in any environment. "Honey Boo Boo's" Mama June has an unfortunate cameo, and there's also a seasoned actor turning up as Harry's meth-cooking roommate, but you will only hear his voice.

It's tough to quantify or even qualify laughter, but "Dumb and Dumber To" offers an assortment of juvenile giggles, good taste be damned. Then again, for a self-proclaimed dumb comedy obsessed with flatulence, it seems all too appropriate to say this reunion sometimes strains itself. There is a definite whiff of forced desperation here, as if Carrey and Daniels were running on empty but kept on trucking on 5-hour energy drinks during their days of shooting. The movie is also stupidly overlong, winding up being overplotted in the end with more than enough revelations. Let's not kid ourselves, though: don't give it too much thought. Chances are better than one in a million that if you liked Harry and Lloyd twenty years ago, you'll like them again, but "Dumb and Dumber To" will not endure. At best, this sequel won't sour anyone's evening, but perhaps the first time was dumb enough.

Grade: C +

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