Lots of good movies have been made about unintelligent characters. This year is the 20th anniversary of Forrest Gump, and no matter how you might feel about that movie now, it’s still a largely beloved Oscar winner about a man with a low IQ. The great Peter Sellers’ last film was Being There, a film about a simple man who could only relate to the world through what he’d seen on television. Mike Judge’s brutal satire, Idiocracy, has been almost prophetic in its depiction of the dumbing down of American society. Good movies, intelligent movies about stupid people can and have been made.
Dumb and Dumber To, the long-gestating sequel to the 1994 film that solidified Jim Carrey as one of the top comedy movie star for years, is not one of those good movies about stupid people. This is one of the most aggressively awful movies I’ve seen in a very long time.
I’ve written about this before, but I think being seen on television really increases the shelf lives of marginal comedies. So many American comedies these days are shambling messes stitched together from marginal screenplays and hours of on-set improvisation that actually not watching them straight through from beginning to end makes them seem better than they are. I really hated Will Farrell’s movie, Step Brothers, when I saw it theatrically, but I’ve kind of warmed up to it recently by seeing 20-minute parcels of it on TV.
Over the past 20 years, I think the original Dumb and Dumber also benefited from being in rotation on TV nearly constantly. Seeing it in chunks hid a lot of its flaws, mainly that it was never all that funny and way too long.
So, here we are, twenty years later, and we finally have Dumb and Dumber To, a most-belated sequel. Filmmakers Bobby and Peter Farrelly are back as writers/directors as are stars Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, who both look way, way too old to still be doing this. The principles are all back, but any charm the original film possessed is very conspicuously absent.
The twenty-year gap between films is explained away in the opening scene that’s been on heavy rotation in the film’s trailers. Lloyd (Carrey) has been pretending to be catatonic for twenty years since the events of the first film. Harry (Daniels, an Emmy winner and Tony nominee) has been dutifully visiting him for 20 years.
Following this, we drop into the plot, such as it is, a rehash of the original’s road trip that allows the Farrellys to string together any series of loosely connected sketches they could think of as Harry and Lloyd travel to El Paso.
There was a scene in the original film that kind of illustrates how badly the sequel goes off the rails. Carrey is asking Lauren Holly if he has a shot with her. She tells him his odds are one in a million.
“So, you’re saying there’s a chance,” is Carrey’s now oft-quoted response. There’s a sweetness in that scene. He is too dim to get what she’s actually telling him and that generates some warmth for the character. In the first film, Harry and Lloyd are stupid, but they’re almost innocents. They had a certain amount of blissfully unaware charm.
Their behavior in this film has been astonishingly miscalculated. Twenty years later, they are just obnoxious louts, 60-year-old frat boys run amuck. They’ve gone from being likeable to being assholes. Carrey, in particular, is a huge problem. There’s no question that he’s a talented screen comedian, but he’s always had a tendency to stretch his rubber face several degrees past what works. Left to his own devices, he’ll go several levels over the top. His best work has always come when a director with a steady hand reigns his worse tendencies in. Peter Weir got great work out of him in The Truman Show. Here, the Farrellys have just let him off the leash, and the result is nearly unwatchable. Both he and Daniels are mugging as if the lives of their loved ones depended on it, but Carrey takes it to a new level of annoying. I kept wondering if he thought what he’s doing was funny. Daniels has spent the last three years spouting Aaron Sorkin dialogue on The Newsroom. No matter the flaws of that particular series, this must be an uncomfortable step backwards.
The Farrellys have always been undisciplined filmmakers; they make Judd Apatow look like Alfred Hitchcock. They kind of outdo themselves here with shoddy craftsmanship. The picture is over lit with an ugly, blown-out look, and the staging of scenes seems like an afterthought, which is deadly for physical comedy. Some of the performances by supporting actors are just bad, and there are all kinds of sloppy errors, like background extras looking directly into the camera on multiple occasions. Their script, which they would seemingly have been working on and polishing for the past two decades, seems to have written exclusively by 10 year olds. The film’s first gag is a gigantic catheter bag filled with urine. There’s no actual joke about it, just the confidence that seeing a gigantic catheter bag filled with urine is, in and of itself, hilarious. It isn’t. And, it’s all downhill from there. Punchlines to jokes are so obvious you can almost yell them out at the screen before they’re actually delivered. When Carrey goes searching for something to drink in a funeral parlor, you know they’re going to wind up drinking embalming fluid. I’m a big Mel Brooks fan, so it’s not like I don’t like tasteless humor when it’s done well. Big Hero 6 has a pretty great fart joke in it, but it is in the context of an actual joke. Seth Rogan has kind of established himself as the patron saint of modern, R-rated comedy, but he’s always brought in interesting filmmakers like Jonathan Levine or Nicholas Stoller to work with. And, speaking of R ratings, how did this thing wind up with a PG-13 rating?
But, the worst thing on display is just plain, old-fashioned, bad decision-making. I think the next point about the film is important to talk about, but it does reveal a minor spoiler. Read on at your own risk.
The film features a cameo by June Shannon. Who, you ask? You may know her as Mama June, the mother of reality TV “star” Honey Boo Boo. She turns up in a dream sequence in which Lloyd imagines Harry living in a trailer park and married to Mama June. The only reason she’s in the scene is because she’s famously overweight. One thing is certain from this movie: the Farrellys think fat people are just as hilarious as sexually active older people and blind people.
Here’s the problem: in the past few weeks, we’ve found out that June Shannon is under investigation from the division of family services in Georgia. You may have heard about this, but their reality show has been cancelled, because she has been dating a convicted child molester and that guy has been allowed to be around June’s children. To make matters worse, one of June’s daughters has come forward saying she was molested by the guy. So, you have Mama June dating a man who was convicted of sexually assaulting one of her own children. And, in even more recent developments, June has said that a second convicted sex offender is the father of two of her daughters. This is serious stuff.
Look, I get that nobody could have known about this news back when the film was in production. But, why would the decision makers at Universal not cut her cameo when these allegations came to light a few weeks ago? June Shannon will profit from being on screen in this movie. Her cameo is not essential to the plot of the film and could be cut with no problem. The studio and the filmmakers have had plenty of lead time to deal with this, to do something about it, and they’ve simply chosen to do nothing. I think that’s an egregious example of terrible decision-making and gives a genuinely horrible movie an even worse tone of social indifference.
I read an interview recently where Daniels said he and Carrey are the only actors who could play these characters. What characters? These aren’t characters. They’re just two guys pushing 60, flailing away, trying desperately to be funny. Desperate is never funny.
Dumb and Dumber To (Even the joke in the tittle isn’t funny.) is one of the worst films in recent memory.