I like to think there’s a knowing subtext to Dumb and Dumber To. It reintroduces central characters Harry and Lloyd – Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrey – at a psychiatric care home, where Lloyd has been in a catatonic state since the end of the last movie. Harry visits him once a week, changes his nappies, tries to coax even the slightest response from him, but receives nothing but the occasional fart for his troubles. There’s a twist, though: it was all a big practical joke. Lloyd was faking it. After this big reveal, everything continues as if it were still 1994.
This is surely a perfect metaphor for the careers of directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly, and to a lesser extent that of Jim Carrey: a promising start, a few farts of inspiration – the former with There’s Something About Mary, the latter with Man on the Moon and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – followed by year after year after year of unimaginable guff. Now they’ve taken their joke and gone all the way back to square one, presumably in the hope things will somehow turn out differently (please, God, let things turn out differently).
The problem is, their joke has aged badly, and they keep fluffing the punchline. Misogyny and racism are paraded as satire, with the Farrellys hiding behind the conceit that we’re just laughing at how goofy Harry and Lloyd are. But I don’t buy that the kind of person who finds it funny to watch a man with learning difficulties ask a Chinese adoptive parent if he “roves” his son “rong time” is capable of making that cognitive leap. Nor the kind of person who finds it funny to watch two men with learning difficulties heckle a female professor with: “Show us your tits”.
There are dozens of movies doing what the Farrellys are trying to do here that are far smarter and far funnier and far less spiteful. If you break the film down into its constituent parts, there are a handful of worthwhile slapstick moments – Lloyd being dragged across a lawn by his catheter tube, for instance – but they provide scant consolation for the rest of the movie.
As the final credits finally roll, clips of the original Dumb and Dumber pop up; they made me sad that Jim Carrey needed money bad enough to have to make this film again, and made me nostalgic for the days when I was young enough to find Dumb and Dumber funny. But those days are gone, and they’re never coming back.
First published in City A.M.