1. Before you get too wrapped up in the negative early reaction to Dumb and Dumber To, the 20-years-later sequel to the 1994 mega-hit, remember that critics hated the first one. Critics are notoriously bad at predicting what comedies are going to stand the test of time; the target is always moving on them. (Here's a summary of original reviews of Anchorman: My favorite is the "Their collective timing is so off that the dead space around their endless bits is like that more commonly experienced during a job interview gone wrong" bit. Yeah, the collective timing was totally off in that movie.)
Often, the initial perception of a new comedy is more about the actor's public narrative than anything else—ridiculously, the top Metacritic score for a Will Ferrell film goes to the stodgy, stilted, Look, He's Getting Serious Now 2006 flop Stranger Than Fiction, which only appealed to people who for some reason wanted Ferrell to settle down and be boring. Unvarnished, unapologetic silliness is never rewarded by Rotten Tomatoes. It can take years for true comedy genius to be appreciated.
2. Dumb and Dumber To—a vastly inferior title to the otherwise vastly inferior 2003 prequel Dumb and Dumberer—isn't comedy genius by any stretch, but it's still pretty damned funny. There is no reason for it to exist other than "20 years have passed, and Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels were down for doing it," but since when did a comedy need to exist?
There is a sense that this film somehow needs to "justify" its return, to be some sort of postmodern, self-referencing meta in-joke about the ridiculousness of having a Dumb and Dumber sequel in the first place. But returning directors the Farrelly Brothers don't do meta: They've always been immune to self-reflection, often to the point of embarrassment. They're much more interested in firing off a well-timed fart joke or idiotic sight gag than winking at you as a matter of protection, the technique Judd Apatow first mastered but has lately just abused. This is to say: I'd rather watch Carrey and Daniels not realize they're bathing in nuclear waste than watch Apatow complain about turning 40 while talking Lena Dunham into a cameo. This sort of proud unhipness is winningly sincere.
3. Thus, Dumb and Dumber To is nothing new: just a random series of increasingly desperate gags swinging at the lowest possible fence. It's bizarre to even suggest that it's supposed to do anything beyond what it's obviously supposed to do, i.e., lunge at every available sight gag possible. Its a matter of taste. There's nothing self-reflexive or ironic about a man yanking out another man's catheter with his bare hands—even getting a couple friends to help with the yanking—but you can't help but admire anyone even going for the joke in the first place. There's an absurdist cell-phone riff between Carrey and Daniels that rises to the level of an Abbott & Costello routine; if you can't admire a movie so cheerfully dopey that it features a cross-country Zamboni trip, this is probably not the movie for you. DADT is old-fashioned that way: There's no winking, no flank-covering, no pop-culture references. It's just grown men hitting each other on the head with things. This is not without considerable virtue.
4. Much of this virtue is thanks to Carrey and Daniels: As much of a money grab as this movie clearly is, they're never sleepwalking. Both guys seem relieved, actually, to get back to such silliness. In the last 20 years, each has gone through the careerist spin cycle (particularly Carrey), replete with rises and falls, and at times they've both taken themselves as seriously as anyone in any field ever has. You sense, then, their delight in simply getting to act like morons for a couple of hours. Daniels actually shows his ass in nearly every scene, which I choose to take as a personal apology for continuing to serve as Aaron Sorkin's personal mouthpiece.
As for Carrey, bless his heart, he looks happier than he has in years. His recent moves—he was the only funny part of lousy comedies The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and Kick-Ass 2—have revealed a man tired of trying to be "legit" and ready to get back to the ass-talking that made him famous and that he deep-down loves the most; consequently, he unleashes himself here. He doesn't have much to worth with, but I still found him hilarious. Let's face it: Jim Carrey might have the best Dumb Guy Face in the history of this planet; every time he pulls a face in this movie, it made me laugh. It probably just comes down to that. I apologize for nothing.
5. All told, the movie is a little too safe and shambling. There are two inspired sequences, both fantasy segments, in which Harry and Lloyd imagine their futures, filtered through the lunacy of their own empty brains, and it's a relief to see the hangdog narrative flipped aside for a few maniac minutes. (Lloyd imagines himself whipping the testicles off ninjas, which is not something I've seen onscreen before. I'm not sure anyone's ever thought to even consider ninja testicles before.) It almost makes you wish they'd just shuttered the rest of the movie entirely and let Carrey and Daniels walk around being idiots. No plot, no story, no "situations" with a clearly lost Rob Riggle as the requisite bad guy—no one else onscreen, really. Just these two grateful goofballs, slapping each other and pouring Slurpees down their pants. That would have been enough for me. To each his own. We all have our silly spots. This movie hit mine.
Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.
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