The best gag in Dumb And Dumber To arrives around the midway mark, when aging idiots Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey) and Harry Dunne (Jeff Daniels) have an unexpected blast from the past. There in front of them, in all its ragged canine glory, is the ’84 sheepdog they traded, straight up, on their 1994 odyssey to Aspen. Twenty years have elapsed, on-screen and off, since these brain-dead besties last saw their beloved shaggin’ wagon, and there’s something undeniably rousing about the sight of the two men careening down the open road again in the custom-designed vehicle, hair (and fur) to the wind. And then they go over a steep hill, the van lands with a spectacular thud, and the engine shorts. No more shaggin’ wagon. Nostalgia trip over.
The joke is on Lloyd and Harry, two classic imbeciles who manage to ruin everything good that comes their way. But it’s also on the audience, for clinging to its affection for a two-decade-old buddy comedy. In a way, just about every joke in this belated, inferior follow-up is on the audience—at least those of us who were remotely excited about the prospect of seeing these characters again. Reuniting the stars of their first and still best movie, gross-out maestros the Farrelly brothers have made what may well be their worst movie—a sequel as desperate, in its own “official” way, as the knockoff-brand origin story that previously besmirched the franchise name.
Dumb And Dumber To is crueler, crasser, grosser, lazier, creepier, and, yes, dumber than the first film. It somehow manages, paradoxically, to both misplace the original’s sublime screwball charm and to recycle pages upon pages of material from that earlier movie. How many morons does it take to write a Dumb And Dumber sequel? Six adult men, the Farrellys among them, toiled away on the script, which sends the intellectually deprived heroes on another road trip, this one to find the daughter (Rachel Melvin) who might be able to supply shaggy-haired doofus Harry with a spare kidney. The boys’ travels put them in contact with the girl’s mother, the fabled Fraida Felcher (best of sports Kathleen Turner, hired to endure countless cracks about her appearance), as well as a pair of murderous schemers (Laurie Holden and Rob Riggle) who underestimate the destructive power of pure stupidity.
If that last part sounds familiar, it’s because it’s one of several plot elements Dumb And Dumber To lifts almost wholesale from its predecessor. As if going down a checklist, the writers supply another MacGuffin, another impossible dream girl, and another put-upon travel-mate with malicious intentions. (Riggle, in the Mike Starr role, is himself too outrageous to properly play straight man.) More dispiriting than the narrative plagiarism are the endless callbacks, the fan-service repetition of old gags; rather than pen new material, the writers simply rely on the presumed vicarious humor of seeing Carrey blow mouth spray in the wrong direction again. Here’s Petey the blind man. There’s the second most annoying sound in the world. And if one elaborate fantasy sequence is funny, two will really kill, right?
Sweetness has always been the secret weapon of the Farrellys, lowbrow comedy auteurs whose warm humanism has steadily eclipsed their taste for dick and fart jokes. As if making up for lost time—or perhaps testing the limits of the PG-13 rating, which are apparently quite elastic—Dumb And Dumber To proudly, dramatically tips the scale back in favor of showboating grotesquerie. Testicles are torn off. Bodily fluids are consumed. The literally dusty nether-regions of elderly women are probed. There’s something admirable, now and perhaps forever, about the Farrellys’ tireless swipes for the gag reflex. But the filmmakers usually invest their bad taste with a good nature; Dumb And Dumber To is weirdly mean-spirited, trotting out gay-panic jokes and AIDS zingers, while severely overdoing Lloyd’s cradle-robbing intentions toward his buddy’s dimwitted daughter.
For fans of the original, which was a true high-water mark in Hollywood buffoonery, it may be tough to resist the charm of seeing these two actors play stupid again—and both Carrey and Daniels slip into their old chemistry with uncanny ease. But the buzz wears off quickly, harshed as it is by the increasingly sad spectacle of two fiftysomething movie stars acting like horny, leering teenagers. When, during a science conference, Harry and Lloyd shout “show us your tits” in unison at a young woman onstage, it becomes clear that the characters are now less guileless nincompoops than dirty old men. This time around, they’re gross (and dumb) in all the wrong ways.