By Stephanie Zacharek
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There is a new movie out. It is called Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd. It is a prequel to the 1994 movie by Peter and Bobby Farrelly called Dumb and Dumber. In that movie, Harry was played by Jeff Daniels. Lloyd was played by Jim Carrey. Parts of it were funny, and people liked it. In this movie, we encounter Harry and Lloyd in high school, seemingly around 1987. Harry is played by Derek Richardson. Lloyd is played by Eric Christian Olsen. Parts of it are funny, too. Just not very many parts. It is 82 minutes long.
Around 113 years ago, an American inventor and chronic patent-snatcher named Thomas Alva Edison took credit for bringing the miracle of motion pictures to humanity. It is highly unlikely that Mr. Edison could have foreseen the production of Dumb and Dumberer. But you never know. His films included subject matter such as sneezing, kissing and showing off one's physique in amusing ways. Meanwhile, over in France, Louis and August Lumière made insightful movies about people walking, getting splattered and riding in vehicles. Apart from pronounced sneezing, all of these essential elements of cinema are featured in Dumb and Dumberer. Clearly, writer-director Troy Miller (Jack Frost) and his co-writer Robert Brenner (a first-timer) know their classics. Their efforts make one wonder if Edison ever made a movie about a dumb kid who smears melted chocolate all over the place, leaving people far dumber than himself to think that it's excrement. (For the record, aspiring screenwriters, "shat" is the past tense of "shit.")
The experience of viewing Dumb and Dumberer is unlikely to kill anyone. Nor should one expect to die laughing. It begins with a baby's-eye view of Harry's cumbersome birth, and it climaxes with a vaguely weird Thanksgiving-parade sequence that feels stapled on to the rest of the movie. (This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as, say, the football game in Robert Altman's M*A*S*Halso feels pretty stapled on. Beyond that, there's not really any comparison. Both movies feature bipedal mammals who say and do odd things to one another, but that's pretty much it.) In between the vaginal gag and the turkey float, there are several scenes of the boys' strained tomfoolery that get recycled into a peculiarly romantic montage set to Air Supply's achingly poignant ballad "Making Love Out of Nothing at All." Pardon the seeming sarcasm, but were the rights to "Two Less Lonely People in the World" too expensive?
The story here concerns eighteen-year-old Harry's being released from home school for the first time by his widowed mother (Mimi Rogers). He immediately crashes into Lloyd, who lives in the basement of the high school with his adopted father, the school's custodian, Ray (Luis Guzmán). Part of Lloyd's front tooth breaks off in Harry's forehead (to be cheaply blacked out thereafter), and the two begin a friendship shaped by Lloyd's unusual philosophies involving race (he dubs an Asian girl "Ching Chong") and sex ("Girls are for fags"). Such credos notwithstanding, they both meet and fall for a pretty wannabe journo named Jessica (Rachel Nichols). Late in the movie, Lloyd fantasizes about Jessica and Harry's mom competing together in a moist, swimsuit-clad "makeout contest." This sequence is decadent, immoral, disgraceful and entirely too short.
Getting back to the story, Harry and Lloyd are quickly inducted into a "special" class formed by the malevolent Principal Collins (Eugene Levy, overdue for a vacation) and his squeeze, lascivious lunch lady Ms. Heller (Cheri Oteri). Essentially, the bogus class -- complete with its own super-short short bus -- is a scam to embezzle $100,000 in grants so the faculty fornicators can escape to the tropics. Jessica decides to bust them, assisted by Harry and Lloyd. On the soundtrack, Vanilla Ice and Devo get exploited rather than the original's Nick Cave, which is something of a relief.
The thing that most people will want to know regarding Dumb and Dumberer is whether Richardson and Olsen are as amusing as Daniels and Carrey. The answer is no, they are not. This doesn't mean that they don't try. Richardson (of Felicity) is warmly silly à la Daniels, and Olsen (The Hot Chick) comes very close to approximating Carrey's nasty streak. Frankly, considering that these lads got stuck with the thankless task of impersonating kamikaze comic actors, they execute some of their bits with verve. For example, their grotesque, Slushee-drinking "brain-freeze" scene is laugh-out-loud funny because it's sharply, knowingly dumb. Sadly, though, the scene immediately preceding it, concerning madcap fun in a convenience store, arrives pre-eclipsed by the work of the Coen brothers (Raising Arizona), Terry Zwigoff (Ghost World), Kevin Smith (Clerks) and Mike Judge (Beavis and Butt-head). It simply stands no chance of being fresh or funny. There are many such misfires. Even the "big payoff" of meeting Frida Felcher (and her twin sister), alluded to in the first film, comes as a fizzling afterthought.
Exactly as you might expect, Dumb and Dumberer is good for a few cheap little laughs. Just don't expect more. As one punk student in the film proudly proclaims, "There is nothing more American than not doing anything and getting away with it." It's precisely this lack of ambition that hamstrings what could have been a bizarrely satisfying comedy.
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