November 7, 2014

Stars dumb, filmmakers dumber

What the hell happened to the Farrelly Brothers?

Seriously — has any directorial pair (except for the Wayans brothers) ever had such a stunning, downward turn in quality over the course of 10 years? We’re talking about a pair that went from There’s Something About Mary, a certified classic, to The Ringer and The Heartbreak Kid—both unwatchable, even on long flights—in less than a decade. This is an Orson Welles-level drop off in quality, and this from a duo that produced the most impressive directorial debut since Citizen Kane. I’m speaking, of course, of Dumb and Dumber, which, if you were born in the early 90s, you’ll remember as the greatest comedy in the history of the medium; better even than Happy Gilmore or Tommy Boy.

It’s been 20 years since that stunning first outing, and Dumb and Dumber still holds up. I watched it yesterday, as I have at least twice every year, since its release. The humor is sometimes crude, but the gags are clever, the soundtrack is killer, and the characters are likeable. Harry and Lloyd, the titular Dumb and Dumber, are as endearing as they are infuriating, a pair of good-hearted Harlequins down on their luck. Their stupidity was enjoyable, then; relatable rather than grating or nasty.

Not so in Dumb and Dumber To. Here Harry and Lloyd—still crazy after all these years, and even dumber—find themselves on yet another cross-country journey to the west, the details of which are as unimportant as they are uninteresting: something about a billion-dollar invention, a kidney, and a long-lost daughter, along with the requisite side-diversion and sight-gags. Who cares as long as it’s funny, right?

Unfortunately, it isn’t. To call Dumb and Dumber To a shadow of its much-loved predecessor is an insult not only to Dumb and Dumber, but to the very idea of the shadow itself. Dumb and Dumber To isn’t simply the absence of the sort of laughs found in the original; it’s the opposite, a swirling black hole of not-funny so potent that I could literally feel the laughter being sucked from my being in the first 10 minutes of its overlong run time (there’s two hours of this shit!). I sound like I’m being overly inflammatory for the sake of humor. But I am not. Dumb and Dumber To is really, really bad.

It’s not just that the writing is weak (“You’re deaf as a bat!” says Harry to Lloyd in a winning quip) ­— this is standard, bad comedy fare, of the type that Comedy Central loves for its 3–4 a.m. Sunday morning slot. Fine. But it’s the performances that really elevate this picture to the type of unwatchability that the Farrelly Brothers have recently made their specialty. Carrey and Daniels haven’t managed to recapture the magic dynamic that made the duo so endlessly watchable in Dumb and Dumber — Carrey’s Lloyd Christmas as the illiterate-but-lovable scamp, Daniels’ Harry his long-suffering, slightly smarter best friend. To’s Harry and Lloyd have been reduced to warped caricatures of their former selves. The years have not been kind to either; they’re now too “dumb” to be believable, and their good nature takes a back seat to the Farrelly’s often mean-spirited sense of humor.

Daniels—so good, recently, in The Newsroom—does his best to imbue his oblivious straight-man with some heart, but seems unable to muster more than a half-hearted Harry impression. Carrey, meanwhile, is at his absolute worst here. This is the Jim Carrey of The Cable Guy and Me, Myself and Irene or, if you’re feeling vindictive, the same Carrey that advocated against vaccination for the chance to bone Jenny McCarthy. His aged Lloyd is insufferable.

It becomes obvious fairly quickly in the proceedings that Carrey, Daniels and the Farrellys have lost touch with these characters over the years, characters which I will now choose to believe died shortly after the events of Dumb and Dumber - hopefully painlessly, in their sleep. Out of respect for their memory, and for the memory of a childhood to which they were so important, I walked out of Dumb and Dumber To shortly after “Lloyd” finished fingering a geriatric in what might have been intended as a laugh-out-loud moment.

Dumb and Dumber To — like Anchorman 2 or Dead Man’s Chest before it — is a comedy sequel that simply should not have been made. Its impetus remains obscure —surely fan demand couldn’t have worn down the Farrelly Bros. after 20 years? More likely the duo needed more money, or Carrey and Daniels just wanted to hang out again. I don’t know. But the result is a film so bad that, even after watching half of it at a free screening, you still want your money back. Or at least your innocence.