Review: Dumb and Dumber To
Twenty years off has not dimmed the dimwittedness of Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey) and Harry Dunne (Jeff Daniels), the morons of Dumb and Dumber and now its sequel. Though their faces have become riven with wrinkles and folds of fat since their debut in 1994, age has granted them not wisdom but instead short-term memory loss, allowing them a kind of radical freedom to forgive each other’s formidable flaws. The only thing they never forget is their affection for each other, lending their infantile bond a sweetness that is central to Peter and Bobby Farrelly’s bodily-fluid-rich oeuvre.
The Farrelly Brothers’ central characters are invariably obsessed with the freakishness of their own bodies—whether it’s Woody Harrelson’s hook-hand in Kingpin (96) or the conjoined twins of Stuck on You (03). Lloyd and Harry’s entire existence is based on investigating their various odors and emissions, and expecting everyone else to be as fascinated as they are. Their insular codependence is neatly portrayed in Dumb and Dumber To’s opener, which explains their 20-year absence as the result of a decades-long prank: Lloyd has pretended to be comatose at Baldy View Psychiatric Hospital, where Harry loyally visits every week and artfully changes his diaper.
Lloyd only stops the ruse when Harry confesses that one of his kidneys is failing and needs a transplant. Their tortured search for a donor leads them to funeral director Fraida Felcher (Kathleen Turner, having a good time) and the revelation that Harry has a grown daughter, Penny (Rachel Melvin), who has gone to give a speech at a tech conference in El Paso. Lloyd and Harry plan to track her down, earn her love, and take her kidney.
The opening scenes play awkwardly and off tempo, as if Daniels and Carrey were pausing for laughter in between each line. There’s also a regrettable “funny Chinese accent” sequence that would have been offensive even in the original. But the Farrelly’s sacred space is the road trip, and once the two idiots fire up their hearse’s engine the movie finds its slapstick sweet spot. The Farrellys have great affection for dingy off-ramp America, and on the Rhode Island–Maryland–El Paso jaunt we are treated to The Blue Crab Motel (with crustacean headboards), Three Finger Eddie’s Fireworks (self-explanatory), and the hockey-themed Mr. Pants’ All Nude Cabaret (“No high sticking”).
Along for the ride to El Paso is Travis (Rob Riggle), a suspiciously hands-on handyman in Penny’s wealthy household. Penny’s adoptive father, Dr. Pinchelow (Steve Tom), is a world-renowned scientist whose wife Adele (Laurie Holden) has a plan to knock him off. Needless to say, Lloyd and Harry undermine their devious plan with a toxic brew of farts, fireworks, and obliviousness. Jim Carrey slides right into character as if no time has passed, his frightening physicality on full display. At one point he inhales a hot dog like a baby bird slurping a worm. Jeff Daniels remains a superb reactor, his blank, doughy face a repository of dumbfounded glares. Riggle, an ex-Army man, can be hilariously aggro (see: Step Brothers), and excels as an exasperated criminal (the same straight-man role played by Mike Starr and Karen Duffy in the first). He also plays Travis’s over-camouflaged twin brother, whose elaborately pointless spy games provide some of the finest visual gags in the Farrellys’ career.
The most difficult task is given to Rachel Melvin as Harry’s supposed spawn Penny, asked to mimic Daniels’s spaced cadences while also being “cute.” This is her first big movie role, having worked mostly in television (Days of Our Lives, Heroes) and DTV exploitation (her other major role this year is in the “horror comedy” Zombeavers). Carrey and Daniels don’t have to worry about desirability, allowing them to be as shamelessly disgusting as they like, but Melvin is immediately sexualized, the latest object of Lloyd’s schoolboy crush. This plot position doesn’t allow her to take the same risks. She has the right staggered intonation and wide-eyed idiocy for this kind of slapstick, but is not given the opportunity to exploit it. It’s not as if the Farrellys stifle female performance—Eva Mendes gives one of the great modern screwball turns in Stuck on You—but here Melvin is allowed to be little more than a very talented prop.
The most fully fledged performance by a woman in Dumb and Dumber To is the undersexed hearing-impaired grandma (Jo Helton, who made her debut smooching John Wayne in North to Alaska) who tricks Lloyd into giving her some much needed stimulation. Seizing on Lloyd’s gullibility, she uses him for what she can and pays him off with her hearing aids (and the gifting of the term “Grangina”). She’s as lowdown and self-obsessed as Lloyd and Harry, and all the more hilarious for it. It’s a further example of the Farrellys’ interest in physical limitation, and bodies that subvert expectations.
There is a bit of the freak show in the Farrellys’ work, something confrontational in how they present their characters’ disabilities without pity or condescension. This attitude has its origins in their childhood friendship with Danny Murphy, who broke his neck diving as a teen and became a quadriplegic. As reported in The New York Times, after Murphy watched the first Dumb and Dumber, he asked Peter Farrelly “why it didn't include anyone in a wheelchair. ‘I'll never forget Pete's face,’ Mr. Murphy said. ‘It was as if I had just told him that his parents had died.’”
From then on disabled actors were cast in regular supporting parts, up to and including Dumb and Dumber To. Rene Kirby, who lives with spina bifida, appeared in Shallow Hal (01) and Stuck on You (03), while the developmentally disabled Rocket Valliere was in Me, Myself & Irene (00), traded jabs with Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear in Stuck on You, and watched the Red Sox win the pennant in Fever Pitch (05). Eddie Barbanell, an actor with Down syndrome, was in Hall Pass (11), and shows up in Dumb and Dumber To as an unamused orderly who kicks Lloyd and Harry out of a nursing home.
Murphy himself acted in nearly all of the Farrellys’ films from Kingpin on, playing everything from a sadistic bowling-alley employee to a kindly community-theater actor. He makes what would become his final appearance in Dumb and Dumber To, having passed away this past August from cancer. He is given a final moment of pratfall grace, tipping over in his wheelchair.
Dumb and Dumber To is about a deep, abiding friendship that can survive any indignities. After Harry and Lloyd’s journey is over, they’ve tossed away fortunes and frittered away kidneys, but they need each other to survive. As each momentary acquaintance slinks, or runs, away, it’s up to Harry and Lloyd to forget and move on. Or as is the case for Lloyd, to think about ninjas and wake up licking the grill of a big rig. Either way they can’t live without each other. And though they could never admit it, or even form the words in their desiccated cortexes, what they have is something like love.