Wednesday, November 19, 2014

DUMB & DUMBER TO Is Funny Enough To Win Over Fans of the Original Classic


- I was re-watching some of the original Dumb & Dumber the other day. It's one of my favorite comedies of all time - I can still quote it backwards and forwards. But I hadn't actually sat down to watch it in years. What struck me about it upon re-watch is just how *effortless* the movie feels. The humor is over-the-top, but it feels so natural - so organically woven into a plot that is essentially a crime flick re-fitted as a dumb comedy. The joke of Dumb & Dumber is that two idiots have been transplanted into a generic 80's-style crime flick. In DUMB & DUMBER TO, the entire movie is the joke - the world of the film has been terraformed in the image of Harry and Lloyd. The twenty-years-in-the-making sequel is just incredibly eager to please. It's got fan-service, it's got gags a-plenty, and it's got the original stars (hyper-committed to recapturing their classic characters) back in the saddle. And it is very funny in parts, with moments that recall the original's genius. But everything in the new film feels cranked to eleven - from the saturated colors to Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniel's performances to the way that many of the jokes are delivered. It's funny to say this, given how the original movie's release was accompanied by worried writings from critics fearful of America's descent into idiocy (oh, if only they knew what was to come ...) - but the original's brilliance in many ways lies in how understated the whole thing is. Harry and Lloyd just *are.* But DUMB & DUMBER TO seems intent on screaming in our faces that these characters are goofy and hilarious. It's sort of like the middle-aged dude trying to look badass. Sure, maybe he pulls it off ... but it just came more effortlessly back in the day.

All that said, I was sort of won over by the sheer force with which the movie throws us into the world of Harry and Llloyd. As with the first film, there's a good-natured quality to their humor that is infectious, and in 2014, a welcome antithesis to the more irony-drenched, self-aware humor we tend to get in most big-screen comedies. I've always loved absurdist comedy, and my favorite jokes in DUMB & DUMBER TO are the little moments of weird wordplay, surreal sight-gags, and oddball non-sequiturs that wouldn't have been out of place in the original.

Where the second film lost me a little was when it tries to go for more modern shock-tactics. Some of the gross-out gags are funny, but there's something just a bit off-seeming when the movie does jokes about an old-woman's nether-regions and the like. The original movie had a charming naivete that this film sometimes seems to do away with. Also, the sequel sometimes seems weighted down by its own plot. What I love about the original is that the plot is incidental - the MacGuffin is Mary Swanson's suitcase full of money that inadvertently lands Harry and Lloyd in the middle of a crime movie. Rather than go that route here, DUMB & DUMBER TO makes the story all about Harry and Lloyd - following the dimwitted duo as they seek out Harry's long-lost daughter, whose existence has just been discovered. Eventually, the plot evolves to the point where it sort of mimics the original - with Harry and Lloyd targeted by a pair of scheming criminals. But the movie has a lot of plot - too much, I think - and the consequence is that the whole movie is now *about* Harry and Lloyd, and so you lose the great juxtaposition of the original where these guys are superimposed into a movie in which they shouldn't exist.

Carrey and Daniels do a fine job of slipping back into their old roles. They both totally go for it, and have no shame in humiliating themselves, and each other, in the name of getting laughs. I do think that both overdo it just a bit - again, as crazy as these characters were in the original, their weirdness was played in a naturalistic way. Here, it's much more overt and cartoonish. That cartoonishness is highlighted by Rachel Melvin's turn as Harry's maybe-daughter Penny, whose character is like a technicolor version of Harry and Lloyd. Don't get me wrong, Melvin absolutely nails it in this role, and is a ton of fun. It's just that Penny is sort of the ultimate example of how this movie goes *big* with its characters and humor in relation to the first film.

When it works though, it works really well. There are some absolutely great gags in the movie, and some lines that deserve to be quoted alongside all of the classics from the first one. The Farrelly Brothers show they still have great comic timing and a well-honed knack for visual humor, fake-out gags, and understated little moments that turn out to be hilarious. Indeed, some of the funniest moments of the movie are not the big, go-for-broke gags but little tossed-off lines that strike right at the funny bone.

DUMB & DUMBER TO is sort of like seeing a friend you haven't seen in a long time. There's a sense of comfort that comes from the reunion, but also a mild depression when you realize they've let themselves go a bit. Luckily, there's enough comfort food - and enough hilarity - in this decades-in-the-making sequel to make it a pleasant companion to the first film. It can't touch the classic brilliance of Dumb & Dumber, but it's  more than funny enough to justify its existence. Did I like it ahh-laaaht? That might be reaching. But I liked it pretty good.

My Grade: B

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