‘Dumb and Dumber To’
Directors: Peter and Bobby Farrelly
Stars: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels
3 (out of 5) Globes
There’s a scene halfway through the 20-years-later sequel to “Dumb and Dumber” where our doofus-anarchist heroes spot the doggy car from the first. They steal it for nostalgia’s sake, then immediately crash it. It’s almost as though directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly threw that in as a dare, to see if detractors would use it as an accidental admission that the thrill is gone, that you can’t go home again. The thrill is gone — and yet “Dumb and Dumber To” is, if you settle into its own rapid-fire, hit-and-miss, lowest-common-denominator groove, a charming reunion, albeit one featuring an unprintable act on an old-timer in a nursing home. After all, the car crash bit can also be read as a beautifully timed gag.
There are a ton of jokes in “Dumb and Dumber To.” A lot of them fall flat — but look at how many there are! There’s some great ones too, albeit no standout single set pieces — the drawn-out laugh fits, usually involving exposed or tortured naughty bits, that made the Farrellys’ names. Often it’s just the Farrellys and stars Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, reprising Lloyd and Harry, whipping out everything they’ve got, not really caring what sticks. The plot again is there mostly to buttress jokes, but it’s also strangely busy, even nasty. Harry’s dying and needs a kidney. Lloyd refuses to give him his, but they discover Harry has a daughter he never knew about — a daughter who’s pretty hot, whose picture instantly ensnares Harry’s heart (or wherever). There’s a “billion dollar invention” MacGuffin and later they wreak havoc on a science convention, this proudly sloppy film having Harry inform a student whose scientific breakthrough actually cures cancer that it’s just not there yet.
The plot soon gets amusingly byzantine, falling back on itself, destroying itself, rebuilding, twisting and turning. But the film is still primarily powered by jokes. Indeed, it begins with Harry visiting Lloyd in a mental institution, where he’s remained catatonic since the last picture — only for Lloyd to reveal he was joking the entire time, just for a long con yuk. The gag’s the thing; when our stars aren’t holding forth on dumb juvenile sex jokes or playing farting games, they’re usually debating the finer points of joke-making — how drawing out gags, or even sacrificing themselves in some ways, makes them better. (In a way — in only this way — this is like “The Prestige.”)But Harry and Lloyd are usually loose about their jokes. Few are actively terrible. (One, a “Breaking Bad” nod, simply seems to be in the wrong movie. The Farrellys don’t do pop culture references; they create pop culture to be referenced.) One of the best is accidental, when it’s eventually revealed this lowest of the lowbrow romps has a subplot that was also in “The Judge.”
Frankly even the lazy ones, where they revisit bits from the first, can yield dividends. The blind kid with the birds is now older and has nicer birds; there’s another assassin played by a full-on comic this time (Rob Riggle) who also gets stuck in a car with our heroes; there’s not one but two extended fantasies, one with prom ninjas. Both leads are game and more spry than one would imagine, though surely Daniels is far more dignified flapping his hands mid-epic laughing fits or showing his butt on a regular basis than he is lecturing viewers on “The Newsroom.”
Carrey officially looks kind of old but he has the same hyper-precision, plus one sudden emotional outburst, delivered with far higher volume and pitch than ever required, that’s worth approximately ten thousand “Somebody stop me!”s. He has a bit with a hot dog that’s downright Chaplinesque, and both actors deserve a special Oscar for a long take bicycle bit, if only because it looks unimaginably painful.
As craftsmen, the Farrellys are an interesting case. Their camerawork is both lazy and highly stylized — ugly shots with the brightest lighting imaginable, but which contain expertly timed bits of business. They can’t stage a standoff to save their lives, but they can do an out-of-nowhere speeding bus as well as the guy who made the first “Final Destination.” Very few are doing this style of film comedy anymore — the ones with goofy sight gags and long takes on balletic performers who rely on their bodies as much as their mouths. This is old school filmmaking; in the ’30s and the ’40s the Farrellys would be directing “Three Stooges” shorts. (Their own maligned “Three Stooges” movie was so spot-on that no wonder some found it alienating.)
And the few times the Farrellys want to be they can be sly commentators. The woman Harry allegedly canoodled with to procreate is played by no less than Kathleen Turner. Harry and Lloyd burn much screentime mocking the former husky-voiced seductress and A-lister for her sagging looks, to her face.But the joke is subtly on them, and Turner’s hilariously brusque performance — with a defiant dignity — comes with the reminder that this is maybe the third of fourth high profile film Turner’s been in since the first “Dumb and Dumber.” (The Farrellys have always loved casting people no one else would, from people with deformities to, here, an Asian-Canadian.) “Dumb and Dumber To” never had to be competent to work; its sloppiness is its charm. It’s a mishmash of good, bad an in-between that quietly lowers expectations enough so that they can be repeatedly exceeded. See y’all in 2034.