Was I Nuts? – Dumb and Dumber

Dumb and Dumber To is about to arrive in theatres, roughly twenty years after the original. A cable staple for the back half of the 90s, Dumb and Dumber was the final signal that confirmed Jim Carrey as the preeminent comedy star of the 90s. This isn’t saying he’s the best, most memorable or influential; he was just the biggest of the time. On the backs of Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls and The Mask, Carrey closed out 1994’s trio with the kind of movie he largely stopped doing just a few years later; broad and steeped in mildly vulgar humor that had a mainstream sensibility. Sure there still came Liar Liar and eventually a return to the scene with Yes Man, but Carrey seemed to have higher, more risqué goals, both dramatically (The Truman Show, Man on the Moon) and comedically (The Cable Guy, Me, Myself & Irene).

Two decades on, Carrey steps back into the role of Lloyd Christmas with his co-star Jeff Daniels at his side and brothers Bobby and Peter Farrelly at the helm once more. Comedy sequels are rarely worth a damn, let alone ones that pop up way after the hype and admiration surrounding the original has faded. I’m going back to the original though to see once more…was I nuts?

The Film

Dumb and Dumber is, as the title implies, a story about idiots. Carrey plays a love-struck limo-driver prone to mixing up the names of countries and injuring himself. His Lloyd meets Mary Swanson (Lauren Holly) one morning as he takes her to the airport, mistaking her uncomfortable gentleness for a romantic spark. When Mary seemingly leaves her suitcase behind at the terminal, Lloyd sees it as a sign to head from his hometown in Rhode Island to Aspen, Colorado in order to return the item and quite possibly (not possibly) woo her.

Joining him on his trip is Lloyd’s best friend and roomie Harry Dunne. Their bond can be described easily as love/hate; quarrelling in a manner more akin to a long-married and mildly disgruntled couple. They know how to make one another laugh with ease, as well as how to push their buttons.

Of course Mary’s luggage turns out to be tied to a kidnapping scenario, which leads a pair of thugs to seek ought and attempt to off Lloyd and Harry, one of many mishaps and misunderstandings that occur over the film. Major wackiness ensues including gags about frozen urine, oddly colored suits and Big Gulps.

The Memory

I came, relatively, late to the Jim Carrey game. Ace Ventura and The Mask didn’t hit my radar until they were out of theatres and seemingly every kid (or boy) in my 7th grade had them memorized. I was there for Dumb and Dumber though and it hit me full force. The movie’s slapstick and goofy voices were regularly regurgitated and repurposed to my daily dialogue. Mimicry of the film’s mannerisms were routine and I spent a good year buying Binaca breath-spray to reenact Lloyd’s continual failed attempts to spray it into his mouth.

Even if the fire around Carrey’s comedic career seemingly burned briefly for me, fading alongside The Cable Guy’s arrival, those two years featured countless returns to Dumb and Dumber and Ace Ventura.

Thinking about it now, this may have been one of the last goofy comedies I loved as a kid before I dug into Kevin Smith fanboy-ism. I still liked Adam Sandler after this, as I recently detailed in a piece about Billy Madison. Yet, even those early Sandler movies had an edge Dumb and Dumber didn’t play around with. Sure, if I recall there’s a blind kid that ends up with a dead bird and sex gags, though none of any real depth beyond the excitement of seeing a girl’s bare buttocks.

The Expectations

It isn’t that I don’t care for slapstick anymore, it’s that I am worried Dumb and Dumber is going to be wall-to-wall of it. There is an absolute fear that this movie will be roughly two hours of Carrey falling down and Daniels screaming while each makes a cartoon-ish face. Additionally, while the Farrelly brothers grew a mini-comedy empire after this movie, peeking with 1998’s There’s Something about Mary, their filmography is spotty at best and perhaps this picture is closer to a Shallow Hal or Stuck on You.

It would definitely be a surprise if I loved this as I once did. I do expect some laughs…please…some…

The Verdict

Dumb and Dumber is not a great comedy, at least by the definition of being consistently entertaining and with a strong success in terms of joke ratio. There are significant gaps from beginning to end, as the movie throws out one gag after another without a single one landing. These moments are almost always the film at its most comically conventional. The lengthy bit where Harry is given a powerful laxative by Lloyd for betraying his trust seems to never end. This is doubly true of anytime the film has to do the basics of moving the plot along. If any family member of Lauren Holly’s character is in the scene, one might as well take a moment to get a snack. At 107 minutes long, the movie is indeed too long.

That said, damn if the film doesn’t have spurts of inspired insanity popping up every now and again. There is such joy in the stupidity on display, even in a scene as brief as the one where Lloyd, who has just spent nearly all of the pair’s last few bucks, strolls down the street at night with a giant cowboy hat. Carrey is grinning and elated to have some new toys, all as Nick Cave’s classic “Red Right Hand” strangely scores it all. It’s the peculiar turns that the Farrellys’ movie nails. Another perfect example is when Harry’s out on his pseudo-date with Mary. Amidst a playful afternoon, Mary throws a very light snowball at an unsuspecting Harry, triggering a deep vein of revenge in the man as he mercilessly pelts her over and over again with giant snowballs of his own, before tackling her down a hill. After all of this, Mary is shocked and again a twist of the tale occurs, as they laugh about it instead of having the rational character freak out.

Carrey manic nature can grate a bit, doubly true when it revolves one of the numerous verbal and physical fights with Daniels. That rubbery ability does get one terrific set-piece; the dream sequence in which Lloyd successfully woos Mary, a truly ludicrous sequence that builds and builds in the silliest manner. I especially love how Lloyd envisions his big fight sequence at the restaurant. Spurred on by a server kissing Mary’s arm, Lloyd starts with a martial arts maneuver before leading to simply kicking another man in the groin repetitively, boxing his genitals and finally closing with biting them. Carrey sells it with great gusto, lacking any humanity and being something more akin to an Adult Swim animated creation versus an actual human.

Then there are the really bizarre asides that make for solid stingers, like Lloyd’s mix-up of rapier wit and “rapist” wit, delight over seeing strangers with Big Gulps and utter glee about landing on the moon; the last bit which he managed to just now discover. Every single time Dumb and Dumber lulls on for a beat too long, it comes back with a solid laugh.

Those lulls do hold it back nonetheless. Daniels’ Harry is a bit of a bore, too over-the-top to be a straight man and not over-the-top enough to standout alongside Carrey. The aforementioned bickering with the two leads gets tedious in a hurry. It can make the whole be a bit of a slog. This might explain its perfection for cable viewings, where one can zone out the bad and immediately swing back in for the nut-kicking. Seriously though, the nut-kicking is to die for.

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