It must be a fine line between being a dunce and being a dick.
20 years ago we were gifted Harry and Lloyd: two dumb, but earnest, guys who were performed with warmth and glee by Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrey. That was Dumb and Dumber. Which was the debut feature film from The Farrelly Brothers. They’d go on to make a series of films – Kingpin, There’s Something About Mary, Shallow Hal and Stuck on You – that added icky situations for simple, but sweet human beings to navigate through. But they were rarely humiliated and they never belittled others. Amidst all the semen, piss and double-crossings there was always a warmth applied to The Farrelly Brothers’ characters.
Comedy-wise, things started changing in the mid-2000s. Large audiences didn’t want characters they liked, necessarily, they wanted a series of ridiculous situations that got larger and larger. They wanted a comedy film that resembled an action movie. Big plot. Explosions, if you’ve got ’em. Amidst this comedy shift, The Farrelly Brothers went back in time and made The Three Stooges, the exact type of simple slapstick comedy that wouldn’t register today. Stepping on a rake and getting a black eye isn’t as funny as getting so drunk that you get anally penetrated by a Thai transvestite prostitute. So now they’ve gone back in time through their own filmography and revisited Harry and Lloyd, with Daniels and Carrey back in the roles they originated.
A few minutes into Dumb and Dumber To, Lloyd (Carrey) makes a series of racist jokes at the expense of Harry’s (Daniels) adoptive parents (who are Asian) and it becomes apparent that both the Farrelly Brothers and Carrey have forgotten what was appealing about these characters. Lloyd said plenty of incorrect things in the original film, but it was from a lack of knowledge, not a lack of human decency. And this is the first of many off-color Lloyd bungles (he yells “show us your tits!” when a female doctor takes the stage a technology convention, and there are so many other examples, but we won’t ruin all the film’s “jokes”).
Recently, we’ve seen a few comedians revisiting dunces or diplomatic characters from their past who became awful people. Most recently Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) on “Arrested Development” and Alan (Zach Galifanakis) in The Hangover II and III. Both became unpleasant, selfish assholes. I suppose people can change, but if you turn Lloyd into a jerk, what exactly are we supposed to enjoy about Dumb and Dumber?
What happened between Dumb and Dumber and To? Lloyd spent 20 years in a mental hospital after being turned down by Mary Swanson (Lauren Holly) in the first film; it’s all a “gotcha” ruse, to get back at Harry for going on a date with Mary in Aspen. So Lloyd is now vindictive. After that joke is revealed, he reveals himself to be racist with Daniels’ parents (who, apparently, despite being high school friends, he’d never met before).
To push the plot somewhere, Harry needs to track down a daughter that he just learned he had because he needs a kidney transplant. The mother of said daughter, Freda (Kathleen Turner), gave her up for adoption 21 years ago. Freda shows them a picture of Penny (Rachel Melvin) and Lloyd instantly decides that he wants to fuck her. When he fantasizes about their first sexual encounter, Lloyd fingers the grill of a semi-truck. So, Lloyd is now a creep, a racist, and a really bad friend. Did Lloyd bury his heart in Aspen? The worst thing he did to Harry in the original was drive the wrong way through the night. But then he totally redeemed himself. The sequel doesn’t.
Related: What’s the Best Dumb Comedy Ever?
Carrey still performs Lloyd with 100% of all his comedic prowess. His gangliness, his wide eyes, his haircut, his wild movements that would scurry animals, Carrey has all the frantic energy ramped up for Lloyd. He just seems to forget that Lloyd was a combination of the cowardly lion and the scarecrow. He lacked brains and courage, not a heart. That performance and writing disconnect is made more unfortunate for Dumb and Dumber To because of how game Daniels and Melvin are.
Daniels doesn’t miss a beat. He drops right into Harry like it’s the yin to Will McAvoy’s brainy yang. He’s glad to be back. And Melvin, who seems to have inherited the stupid gene from her father (despite being adopted by a technology genius), performs at the highest level she can despite being saddled with loads of unfunny lines and filmed with an icky lewdness. (Don’t you see why Lloyd wants to screw her?! She’s hot! See! Here she is in her underwear!)
Cue the Crash Test Dummies in your cassette player and put your headphones on if you don’t want to hear this: despite Daniels’ best efforts, Dumb and Dumber just got meaner and lewder. And because of that, it’s also unfunnier.