Kentucker Audley is an actor, filmmaker and programmer. He stars in Amy Seimetz’s Sun Don’t Shine, Ti West’s The Sacrament, and Dustin Guy Defa’s Bad Fever. He has directed four feature films, including Open Five, which was called one of the Top 25 films of 2010 by The New Yorker, and Open Five 2. He also runs NoBudge.com, which screens new indie films.
I’ll admit I didn’t see much potential for the new Dumb and Dumber to be funny. After cringing through the trailer, I walked in fearing I wouldn’t laugh once. The premise irritated me. Twenty years after the original, Lloyd (Jim Carrey) and Harry (Jeff Daniels) go on a road trip to find the daughter Harry’s just found out he has. OK, that’s fine, but what about the part where Harry has been living in a fake catatonic state for the last 20 years as a gag against his pal — any reason for that? Anybody think that’s funny? Harry wiping his friend’s ass for 20 years, thinking he’s basically dead? Lloyd offering up two decades of his life to a mental institution while pretending he can’t stand or talk? OK, let’s put that one in the “sounded funny at the time” pile. Commitment to a gag, yes, commitment to a gag that undermines the rest of the film, also yes. Why does it undermine it? Because… how is this man suddenly back to “normal” immediately after revealing his gag? Also: never mind, who cares?
Ten minutes into the movie and my “not one laugh” hypothesis was still intact. Joke attempt, joke fail, repeat. Harry changing Lloyd’s urine drainage bag, briefly holding it with his teeth. Stamped: NOT FUNNY. Harry violently tugging Lloyd’s lodged catheter from his dick. Stamped: NOT FUNNY. Lloyd insisting that Harry might have actually taught his abandoned child some lessons on life, like filling her with wonder, and then cracking, “Like, ‘I wonder who my deadbeat dad is.’” Not funny. Repeat.
There were a couple of “almost laughs.” The movie almost got me at the 15-minute mark with a gag of Lloyd and Harry riding bikes while attached to the front of a bus, a funny visual which could have been a laugh if I had warmed to the proceedings in any way. Another near-miss came at the 20-minute mark, with Lloyd asking the mother of Harry’s lost child, “Did you have a C-section, or were you able to have the baby au snatch-urel?” Again, not funny, but the goofy commitment of Carrey, unflagging since his days as Ace Ventura, started to mean something. But for every step forward, there were 10 back, a mean fat-joke or an offensive Chinese stereotype. Not only not funny, negative funny. So we’re 20 minutes in and still no dice….
But before I go any further, let’s flash back. When the original Dumb and Dumber came out in 1994, I was 13 years old, loved Jim Carrey, loved the movie, watched it a million times, quoted it to all my friends, etc. You know the drill. One of the great debates about movies is whether comedies you loved when you were 13 are actually funny, and there’s no answer to that, nor should there be. But you gotta hand it to the Farelly brothers, their stylistic stasis is on point — the sequel’s vibe is almost identical to that of its ’90s counterpart. And so I imagine 13-year-old kids now might think this is funny. Except maybe not, because Carrey and Daniels are now guys are in their fifties, and 7th-graders don’t think old people like their dads are funny or embarrassing when they try to be.
As I watched Dumb and Dumber To, though, something unexpected started to happen. Gradually, sometime after the excruciating setup, I stopped wincing at every line. And then, for some reason, a miracle: I began to be charmed by the over-the-top commitment of Carrey and Daniels being just as stupid as they were, not an ounce smarter. I began to see the fun they were having and stopped holding it against them. And then it really happened: sitting front row at the Pavilion Theater in Park Slope, Brooklyn, on Sunday, November 16th, 2014, watching Dumb and Dumber To at 11:55 a.m., I laughed at one of the jokes.
The laugh came at the 21-minute mark on a throwaway line that Lloyd offers to Harry after an early setback. Trying to convince his buddy that they’ve done all they can do in trying to find his daughter, he says something off-camera you might easily miss, a quote from legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, famous for never-say-die maxims such as, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Except the quote is completely wrong as Lloyd tells it, attributing to the coach an attitude he would never have had. I was the only one in the theater who laughed. But they got me (and I have the proof on my iPhone audio-recording of the screening). I chuckled at the following line: “As Vince Lombardi used to say, ‘You gotta know when to quit.’”
It wasn’t long before more laughs came: a sight gag of the pair, lost, looking at an old road map on the hood of their car. Perfectly normal until a cut reveals they have stopped right in the middle of the highway, cars narrowly avoiding collisions on either side. And another: as Lloyd cracks a nut in an automatic window, he gives voice to the window: “I want your nuts, Harry.” And after crushing on Harry’s 20-year-old daughter, Lloyd is not interested in dating someone his own age: “My age? Gross.”
Laughs led to more laughs and before I knew it, I was being entertained fairly regularly. After Harry loses his hearing because a firecracker explodes in the car, Lloyd lies his way into a nursing home to steal hearing aids from a random old person. Or later, when Harry and Lloyd show up a TED-like conference and Harry is mistaken for a tech genius and hustled onstage to judge a Young Inventors competition before the mistake is revealed, causing Lloyd to plead for his life, “Can’t you kill somebody else?”
The thing I started to realize was that the film didn’t feel desperate. This wasn’t some begrudging cash-grab by either Carrey or Daniels. These guys wanted to be here doing this, and they showed admirable, unyielding enthusiasm for their ridiculous dick and shit jokes. They actually seemed determined to mine for laughs with the same wild abandon as in the original.
In the end, I laughed eight times out of a possible, let’s say, 100 jokes. But I still liked Dumb and Dumber To because Carrey and Daniels seemed entirely committed. For a film so wide open to criticism, you gotta give its makers credit for not being tentative. I was impressed by how stupid it still was.