26 November 2014

First Impressions: Dumb and Dumber To

I am happy to announce that after seeing this, everything I said would be wrong, happened. This is not a good movie in any sort of way, and possibly even reaches worse depths than Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd (2003). At least this holds up and the franchise isn't ruined because another terrible movie already did that to Dumb and Dumber (1994). The big question here, though, is how did a sequel to one of the funniest movies of all time, featuring the same directors and cast, completely fail?

The simple reason is that a lot can change in twenty years, and while 1994 was the start of a hot streak for the Farrelly Brothers, which has cooled considerably, as well as Jim Carrey's comedic peak, saying that a movie should be good because all the same people are back doesn't really have any merit. Not only is it really tough to replicate long-term success, especially in comedy as voices and tastes change, but there's never going to be any comedic value to a property that lacks strong story and characters, which Dumb and Dumber To (2014) bungles for no good reason other than a desperate outstretching of effort. Needless to say, if you care, SPOILERS for this wretched sin against God come from here on out.

Comedy sequels are always really hard to do, because it's so easy to fall into the same jokes and plots that worked the first time. I've spoken at length about this this year, notably with 22 Jump Street (2014), both in my preview and review. 22 Jump Street is simultaneously spectacular and problematic because it surpasses its predecessor in humour in nearly every way, and pushes its meta-content to a ridiculous level. What I argued brought it down, however, was the fact that although it's continually commenting and consciously fighting against itself to "do the same thing it did last time," it ultimately doesn't break from the plot beats established in 21 Jump Street (2012). Therefore, it kind of has its cake and eats it too: it's able to make fun of every stupid sequel that just does the same thing while it, itself, does the same thing.

22 Jump Street gets away with this, however, because it has such strong character moments - which in an artfully crafted comedy, leads to the funniest parts in the film. The funniest moments are all steeped in character interactions, specifically between Jonah Hill, C-Tates and Ice Cube. These moments happen because the characters are well constructed with easily recognizable traits, desires, motivations, and conflicting opinions that bounce off each other in interesting, and often very hilarious ways. I was really sour on 22 Jump Street when it first came out, but by now the humour has grown on me and I can appreciate it much more for what it is trying to do.
There were some creative vehicle choices.

The point of all this in a post ostensibly about Dumb and Dumber To is that a movie with as canny a pair of directors as the Farrellys cannot make this film in a post-22 Jump Street world. It did too good a job of calling out these stupid cash grab sequels. Comedies by their nature should be biting at this - not necessarily in a meta way, but comedians should have some kind of self-awareness. That's where satire comes from - letting people in on the joke of life. If The Three Stooges (2012) is any indication, though, the Farrelly Brothers actually have no idea how to be self-aware, use it to their comedic advantage, or have any idea how to deliver what people want. They are insanely out of touch with their audience, which again, is mind-blowing considering they offered easily three of the Top Comedies of the 90s (Kingpin [1996] and There's Something About Mary [1998] are the others). Perhaps that's just it - they left all their sensibilities in the 90s.

Despite my ranting about 22 Jump Street and that film's own ranting about sequels themselves, there have actually been some high profile comedies lately that completely or mostly threw out what came before. Horrible Bosses 2 (2014) offers strong character work with a fresh(-ish) premise that doesn't beat for beat follow its predecessor, even if that was a mostly toothless comedy (ooooh targeting bosses? No one has thought to hate those). More relevant, though, is Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013), which I would calmly say surpassed its predecessor on nearly every level. I think it got some flack for this, strangely - it wasn't as quotable as Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004), and nearly didn't have any callbacks, which I think people were expecting. We're literally in an age where we can neither create wholly new sequels nor carbon copy sequels. I, frankly, want new every time, if new fails. Anchorman 2 is an excellent example of a long-term sequel that was highly anticipated and did pretty damn well.

Dumb and Dumber To is pretty bad, but it looks much worse in comparison to these flicks for not fitting into this new world. It's also weird how it resists for a really long time, but the only result of this is an aimless first half-hour that doesn't know what it's doing. And the jokes aren't even that bad, and once the film gets rolling on the road with the two characters, becoming more focused on just putting them in wacky situations, it finds some sweet spots. But the primary reason for its dismal reception comes down to the characters, chiefly Jim Carrey. There is just a lack of tact to the film that renders Carrey completely unsympathetic, which is essential to buying into the film. Again, we need to talk about how character is the basis of the film, and there's so much distance here because of how awful his character is that the rest completely falls about. The audience can't buy into his hijinks.

Now, Lloyd Christmas is essentially the same character, which is a pretty dark and selfish character to begin with, but in Dumb and Dumber, he came across as simply more innocent and misguided than just blatantly mean. It's not like this is an outrageous thing for Carrey's comic persona, but if you're going to go this nuts with his unscrupulousness, you need to have some kind of balance. Like The Cable Guy (1996) worked because Carrey was the kind of annoying sociopath character he always played, but people reacted reasonably and hated him within that film's world. This is why The Cable Guy is an incredible commentary on these kinds of films the same way Funny People (2009) used Adam Sandler to comment on Adam Sandler. It is clear, however, that neither Carrey nor Sandler understood this, or if they did, like money more.

For a flick made in 2014, this is also strangely misogynistic and racist. Harry and Lloyd sort of acted like this back in the day, but that was really them being immature more than anything - it was expressed as them having that 14-year old boy mentality ("Nice set of hooters you got there."), that was more out of naïveté than degradation. But things like laughing at a woman doctor and Jim Carrey busting at Harry's Asian parents come off as really inappropriate. It's not like it's being dark or edgy by pushing the envelope - look at Neighbors (2014), which uses the n-word twice and comes across as less racist. You can even cite That's My Boy (2012) or The Campaign (2012) as recent comedies with blatantly racist jokes, but they at least showed their victims as actual human beings that both got back at their ignorant oppressors. Carrey makes fun of the Asians as stereotypes but they're nothing but stereotypes and there's no comeuppance, which is kind of awful.

I think this has something to do with the age of the principal duo. It seems okay when they are younger and can play up being a little ignorant, but as 50-somethings it feels really wrong. It's less confused and more mean, which isn't great for sympathizing with the protagonists, which is a huge part of getting into this movie. And it's not like Jeff Daniels was making Black jokes at Victoria Rowell - there's not really a history of the kind of anti-social behavior on display here.

To some part I get it, I mean, the movie does piece together the fact that these guys are the dumbest folks on the planet and that only they would think to laugh at the idea of a woman doctor. In its own way the film is saying that these kinds of attitudes are really dumb, but at the same time it's again this issue where it renders the characters more unsympathetic rather than providing any artful meta-commentary. And dude, I loved That's My Boy - seriously, I'm one of the only people on the planet to do so - I really dig this kind of unapologetic crudeness, but it doesn't work in Dumb and Dumber To.

If we're comparing the two films, and we can pretty easily, because it's essentially about two characters who are trying to like each other, but keep being dicks to each other, which pushes them apart, we can see some reasoning here. Adam Sandler is clearly analogous to Jim Carrey and Andy Samberg can be our Jeff Daniels. While Sandler ruins his life, it's ultimately for the better and he helps Samberg shed some shackles and become who he really is inside. This is after Sandler humbles himself and finds redemption of his own. The only brief bit that comes close to this in Dumb and Dumber To is Lloyd's realization that the daughter he wants to bang is actually his, which is such a revelation on its own (one that I thought was awfully clever and a nearly perfect way to grow both characters...until the film reneged it). This is fuddled, however, by the pressing background issue of Harry's kidney need, which is also completely fake.
Oh yeah, and these two. I'm not even going to
talk about these two. Rob Riggle was pretty great, actually.

Every real moment of character growth in this film is undermined, and again, look at any of the other comedies I've listed here that share similar moments of grotesque, crudeness, and hilarity - it's not like this film needed to shed any sentimentality to be funny. Dumb and Dumber (2014) keenly pushed its complicated background sub-story behind, to the point where it's incomprehensible, but deftly so that it didn't interfere with the main story. The sequel puts way too much emphasis on the weirdly complicated kill-the-old-genius plot along with the kidney thing that distracts from what the movie is actually about, which is this father / daughter relationship that doesn't actually exist. This ultimately creates a really hollow experience.

The reveal that neither has ever had sex, or even knows what sex is is decent, but part of the film would have been a bit more interesting if they stuck with the reveal that Fanny Felcher was Lloyd's daughter. She's such a dead ringer for it, and actress, Rachel Melvin does a nice job keeping up with the dumb leads. At least 22 Jump Street had Rooster's High School football team be the Plainview Red Herrings. The film's concluding notion that Felcher is better off living with her biological grandparents, who are the parents of a guy from the past named "Pee Stain" that died directly because of actions taken by Lloyd, is a disheartening vote of no confidence in the film's leads.

It's a similar ending to Dumb and Dumber in that the duo are two dumb to hold on to a good thing when they have it, but the key is that they of their own ignorant volition discarded the first film's gift of being Bikini Tour Oil Boys and here a redemptive fatherhood (and let's face it, whoever the father was, the other would have a large role to play with equal character pay-off, and Harry would have made a much better uncle because he wouldn't be trying to fuck Lloyd's daughter all the time) is stolen away from them, seemingly at the cruel behest of the film itself in an otherwise arbitrary move. And by all means, Fanny would have been pretty happy hanging out with Lloyd and Harry for the foreseeable future. She was just a rare, perfect match for them. Mostly because of dumbness.

But do you know what this film's greatest sin was? Putting Bill Murray and Jim Carrey on the same set without anyone ever knowing about it and completely squandering that opportunity in a forgettable Breaking Bad gag.

Fuck you, Farrelly Brothers.

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