How fond your inner 15-year-old is of the 1994 original will undoubtedly color how you respond to Dumb and Dumber To, a sporadically funny, surprisingly mean-spirited, nostalgic cash grab that joins the crowded ranks of underwhelming comedy sequels.
The Farrelly brothers, having peaked with 1998’s There’s Something About Mary, fail to recapture their glory days, despite copying the plot of the first film for the second. The script, accredited to six (?!) writers, finds Harry (Jeff Daniels) and Lloyd (Jim Carrey) once again going on a road trip – swapping their iconic “Shaggin’ Wagon” for a hearse in an effort to help Harry and his long-lost “love” Fraida Felcher (Kathleen Turner) reconnect with Penny (Rachel Melvin), the daughter she gave up for adoption.
Harry may be the father, but that doesn’t stop Lloyd from having the hots for Penny, as the two race against time to catch up to her at a TED-like conference (called “KEN”) in Texas. Along the way, our favorite idiots become prey to a crazy, convoluted criminal plot involving the shady wife of a wealthy, reclusive genius (The Walking Dead’s Laurie Holden), her dense lover and his twin, a special ops expert (both played by Rob Riggle).
Discussing the merits and logic of the plot is foolish: It’s all about the dick and fart jokes, and there’s one protracted gag devoted to the latter. The film’s low-brow, juvenile humor isn’t a problem (heck, it’s a prerequisite); it’s the desperate and lazy “been there, done that” execution.
Carrey’s manic, kitchen-sink approach misses more than it hits, largely because his character isn’t given anything exceptionally funny to do, unless you count finding new ways to work “Bond, James Bond” into uneventful conversation and mistaking a cup of embalming fluid for a Slurpee. Daniels fares slightly better, with Harry driving the plot this time around. But putting the dufus at the center of the finale’s comedy, which features Harry judging the KEN Conference’s contest of world-changing inventions, quickly becomes a series of diminishing returns as Daniels visibly struggles to make the non-punchlines hit.
While the first film didn’t have a considerable warm-and-fuzzy center, it did have an effective dose of heart – and it certainly didn’t have the mean streak that weirdly underlines this sequel. An early sequence show Lloyd being downright mean (and a bit too meta) with his unstoppable comments about the physical appearance of Fraida Felcher. But the characters' comedy doesn’t trade in “pile-ons” or conscious cruelty, and that apparent lack of awareness about what makes them work files Dumber firmly under “misfire.”
There are some fun laughs, especially from Riggle, just not enough of the belly variety. The machinations of the script hit their marks and subvert expectation by honoring the sequel mantra of “keep it the same, but different.”
Unfortunately, no one told the filmmakers to also aim for better.
Dumb and Dumber To opens today nationwide.