This isn’t a movie review of “Dumb and Dumber To.” There are enough of those already. No, this is a personal lament from a die-hard fan of the original. It’s my attempt to explain—in fan-level detail—why the sequel failed where the original succeeded.
I didn’t expect it to be as good as the original, but I figured I’d have a few laughs and some nostalgia. Instead, the unthinkable happened: it was horrible. Not just bad, but an unholy rock-bottom terrible where I didn’t laugh once and the theater was silent along with me. It was so bad that it was worse than “Dumb and Dumberer.” You heard me. At least that movie had one funny scene with Bob Saget freaking out that shit was all over the walls. This one was—and I’m not exaggerating—devoid of funniness.
The original “Dumb and Dumber” is more than a movie to me: it’s been a part of my life since it came out in 1994. I saw it in theaters with my dad when I was nine years old and we both loved it. It was one of those bonding moments that’s always stayed with me: the time I realized that my dad and I had the same sense of humor. I’ve seen it countless times since then. My high school yearbook quote was “Hey guys. Big Gulps, eh? All right! (Pause) Welp, seeya later!” I can quote the entire thing from memory. My fiance can, too. Throwing out “Dumb and Dumber” quotes has become an automatic, almost subconscious part of how we communicate. “Dumb and Dumber” is an experience that unites the people who love it.
That love of the original is what put me in the theater on opening night of “Dumb and Dumber To,” despite some worries. The sequel didn’t feel necessary. I didn’t want anything to tarnish the original. Jim Carrey has gotten a little weird in the 20 years since the original filmed. The trailers leading up to opening night felt off with their overly contrived jokes and cringe-worthy setups. My optimism helped me ignore these things (maybe they saved all the good jokes for the movie?), but I was still expecting a decent time.
I’ve seen a few reviewers comment that the sequel is only for die-hard fans; that we’re the only ones who’d derive any enjoyment from it. The total opposite is true. If anything, we’re uniquely equipped to feel insulted by how awful the sequel was because of our understanding of the qualities that made the original great.
Because I can’t focus on anything else until I get this out of my system, here’s a list of seven reasons why “Dumb and Dumber To” was horrible. Spoilers ahead.
1. Misunderstanding what made the original funny
If you ask “Dumb and Dumber” fans what made the original hilarious, most won’t cite the “return the briefcase to the love interest” plot or the over-the-top setup gags, like the visuals of Harry having explosive diarrhea on Mary’s broken toilet or the tongue stuck to the frozen ski pole. It’s the little things: the offhand comments about John Deere letters or John Denver being full of shit; Lloyd’s authentic excitement about landing on the moon; swapping “seven forty-five” for “quarter to eight;” or misinterpreting a police officer’s order to “pull over” as a wardrobe compliment.
The improv-style line delivery and chemistry between Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels made the original. It’s two guys on an adventure having idiotic conversations and experiences. The briefcase is just an excuse to get them spending time together in a cross-country road trip; no one cares about the kidnapping.
The sequel is all about the opposite: big setup gags. Everything feels forced and rigged together for the payoff of a laugh that never comes. The script gives Harry temporary deafness to set up a joke where Lloyd crashes a nursing home, finds an old woman with hearing aids, and ends up finger-blasting her in exchange for the hearing aids…which Harry only uses for the next minute or two of the movie. The entire joke, complete with a sickened-looking Lloyd blowing dust off his hand, is an unsettling flop.
Compare this film’s old lady joke to the one from the original, where Lloyd unwittingly insults an old woman he’s asked to watch his things while he breaks a dollar for change, who later robs him because of his insult. “Senior citizens—although slow and dangerous behind the wheel, can still serve a purpose!” He beams. “Don’t you go dying on me!” You can tell he means well, that he’s legitimately happy to tell this old woman that she’s useful despite her age. The humor comes from his earnestness and complete shock when he’s robbed (“I got robbed by a sweet old lady on a motorized cart…and I didn’t even see it COMING!”). The humor in the sequel, if you can call it that, is pure gross-out value.
There’s another scene where a bad guy gets hit by a train and disappears, to Harry and Lloyd’s surprise. The train hits their current cross-country vehicle, a hearse, and wipes it off the screen along with the bad guy. Harry and Lloyd turn around, wonder where everything went, shrug their shoulders, and keep going. It’s supposed to be a laugh moment, but it’s not. Yet with their bad guy gone, the writers need a replacement…so they write in a twin brother for the bad guy, played by the same actor, who resumes the role as though he’s the same person. It makes no sense. The entire thing is orchestrated simply to create the disappearing car joke, which isn’t worth it.
Later there’s a moment at an invention competition where a student shows off a device that projects a video image of someone’s memories when that person is hooked up to it. The inventor asks Harry to think of a happy moment from his childhood; he pictures putting peanut butter on his dick and having a dog lick it off. Again, it feels like the entire invention-judging scene is a setup to create this horribly unfunny joke, which shows the audience in the film cringing just as hard as the audience watching “Dumb To.”
“Dumb To” is a long series of setup jokes like these. Not only do they fail to deliver any laughs, but they illustrate the fundamental lack of understanding for the little quips and details that made the original amazing.
2. Why are they assholes in the sequel?
The original Harry and Lloyd were well-meaning, bumbling idiots. They acted out of self-interest, sure—like hooking up with Mary—but their motivation was to find their place in the world while doing a favor for Mary. “Don’t worry. We’ll catch our break, too. Just gotta keep our eyes open,” they say in the last line of the movie (besides “You’re it”). They’re traveling across the country to give a woman back her lost briefcase because Lloyd thinks he loves her. They want to meet someone “who knows somebody who can plug us into the social pipeline,” because they’re sick and tired of being nobodies and having nobody but each other. They want companionship and support outside each other.
The sequel’s Harry and Lloyd travel across the country to find Harry’s estranged daughter and talk her out of her kidney. No joke. And pretty quickly into the movie, Lloyd decides he has the hots for Harry’s daughter and wants to steal her for himself. Their motivations are selfish and antagonistic.
They’re also rude, obnoxious bullies through a lot of the sequel, a change that made them unlikeable. During a scene at Harry’s adoptive parents’ house, Lloyd throws his feet up on the dinner table and makes fun of Harry’s Asian mother’s accent. They barge into their dead friends’ parents house at 3 AM. They’re disgusted by a matured Freda Felcher (who’s the same age that they are), who they think is a man. They ruin a conference by screaming at the speaker, who’s trying to talk about the science of black holes. Lloyd throws Harry’s cat into Billy in 4C’s apartment, where it kills all of the blind character’s rare birds.
None of these moments are funny; they’re just mean. And they feel entirely out of character from the two guys we remember from the original Dumb and Dumber who generally tried to be helpful, even when they were making a mess (like spending millions in IOU’s, or accidentally murdering a guy by giving him rat poison pills).
3. Too stupid (and too smart)
The original Harry and Lloyd were dumb, but still functional—at least enough to have jobs and navigate across the country. I always thought that Lloyd was the dumber of the two from the scene where he can’t read the word “the” in the newspaper, handing the paper with exasperation to Harry, who has no problem reading the much tougher phrase “will host annual preservationist society benefit” aloud.
In the sequel, Lloyd—remember, a guy who can’t spell “the”— is somehow smart enough to know that there’s a “b” in the word “subtle.” Yet he’s stupid enough to have a phone conversation with Harry on the couch next to him without realizing it’s him, nor does he (or Harry) know what sex is. The sequel versions of Harry and Lloyd showed a range of intelligence that was outside of character for them, at once too smart and too stupid for the guys we knew from the original.
The non-dumb supporting characters in the real world always served as a foil to Harry and Lloyd’s dumbness in the original, but they let it trample all over them in the sequel. Harry and Lloyd’s universe is essentially the one we live in, except for the existence of these two happy-go-lucky idiots. The other characters react to them like they’re stupid, which we know that they are. But while the reactions to and toleration of their idiocy in the original seemed realistic (like Mary’s discomfort towards Lloyd’s overly long hug, or the hitman’s laughter when learning that our duo doesn’t even know Mary), it was out of control in the sequel. The scene at the Ken Conference stands out: Harry and Lloyd are spilling beer over the audience and heckling the physicist on stage while a room full of the most brilliant minds in the universe just tolerates it. Only the faux Stephen Hawking calls them out on their behavior. It painted the whole world as idiots acting unreasonably, when Harry and Lloyd are supposed to fill that role alone.
One of the best parts of the original “Dumb and Dumber” is the actors’ animation, particularly Lloyd’s. Jim Carrey’s rubbery facial expressions and exaggerated movements form the backbone of Lloyd’s character and add to re-watchability.
“Dumb and Dumber To” felt like the actors watched the original, took notes that said “be zany,” and overdid it. They say their lines awkwardly. Stupid faces happen unexpectedly and out of place. It feels like they’re trying too hard, to the point of distraction. Harry and Lloyd don’t feel like real people; they feel like actors trying to play Harry and Lloyd. It took me out of the movie.
5. Where does this emphasis on pranking come from?
The abundance of extreme pranking in “Dumb and Dumber To” is difficult to explain, given that there’s almost no basis for it in the original. The only real prank we see in the original is the hot peppers on Mr. Mentalino’s burger, but it’s never positioned as crucial to their characters and the way they relate to each other.
The sequel paints Harry and Lloyd as extreme pranksters, a trait that’s central to the plot. It’s provided as the explanation for the events of the past 20 years, which Lloyd spent in a nursing home pretending to be in a vegetative state. How Lloyd went from nearly taking the opportunity to be an oil boy on a bus of bikini babes to launching into an elaborate two-decade prank on Harry makes no sense. And like most of the gags in the movie, it’s not funny, either. It’s just sad and bizarre and leads to several scenes showing Harry changing Lloyd’s adult diaper, which played to crickets in the audience.
Harry repays the nursing home prank by pretending that he needs a kidney transplant, which launches the cross country trip to find his biological daughter and get one of her kidneys. Lloyd has a sketchy Mexican doctor remove his kidney to give to Harry to make up for being an asshole earlier, and…surprise! Harry did the whole thing as a joke. Hilarious, right?
Both Lloyd losing an internal organ and Harry spending 20 years caring for Lloyd in a nursing home are written off as the sort of pranks these guys love to do, despite any support for this affinity in the original. Even the closing scene highlights their pranking, showing them push two beautiful women into a bush instead of hitting on them. None of it’s funny. None of it fits their characters. I don’t get it.
6. Repetition from the original
The sequel feels like the Farrelly brothers sat in a room and analyzed the original “Dumb and Dumber” to reduce it to a series of elements, then tried incorporating as many of them as possible to guarantee success. If there’s any formula to the original’s success, it’s what I’ve described above in point one above. The parallels in the sequel only make viewers depressed about how far they stray from the feel of the original.
Some of these parallels include:
- A cross country car trip to deliver a mystery package to a beautiful woman
- A Lloyd daydream where he imagines killing bad guys to impress his crush, and the snaps out of it while looking at a car component in real life (headlights in the original; a truck grill in the sequel)
- A bad guy hitman who’s trying to kill them while also riding in the car with them
- An unusual car (the shaggin’ wagon in the original; a hearse and a Zamboni in the sequel)
- Lloyd falling for someone he hardly knows
- Undercover FBI agents showing up in a last-minute shootout
- Lloyd treating the blind kid with the bird badly
- Harry and Lloyd buying elaborate but inappropriate outfits for a public event (the blue and orange tuxes in the original; graduation gowns in the sequel)
Revisiting a few of the jokes in the sequel actually tarnished them for me. For example, Lloyd leads Harry to the Mutt Cutts van after remembering where the kid he traded it for lived. He says something about how he thinks he may have gotten a bad deal (remember, Lloyd shows up on the minibike to collect Harry, trying to conceal his obvious pride at saving the day and TOTALLY REDEEMING himself for trading the van for it straight up). Of course, the point of that joke from the original is Lloyd’s stupid belief that he got a great deal, so Lloyd’s realization 20 years later that he didn’t undermines what made it funny.
7. Plot holes
The plot was never important to “Dumb and Dumber,” but it was consistent enough to drive the characters’ experiences. This time around, though, its flaws are distracting.
If the Ken Conference people believe that Harry is a world-famous scientist whom they worship to the point of accepting his awful behavior, then why does no one know what he looks like? Has no one Googled Dr. Picheloaf?
If Penny isn’t Lloyd’s daughter, why does she look and act exactly like him? And in this universe of relatively normal people with only three extreme idiots—Penny, Lloyd, and Harry—how can they not be related?
How can anyone afford any of this? The Harry and Lloyd in the original held down jobs at least some of the time (limo driver, dog groomer), and they had aspirations of building a worm farm. Who’s paying for 20 years of intensive inpatient care for Lloyd, who’s faking it for a gag? What the hell has Harry been doing this entire time?
8. Extra cringey moments
A few scenes were so awful that they deserve their own mention. Honey Booboo’s mom made a cameo in one scene. Lloyd used the phrase “baby poppa.” In a weird nod to “Breaking Bad,” Harry acquired a meth dealer roommate to cover Lloyd’s rent. Harry’s cat eats some meth, then gets high and hangs from a ceiling light. This is supposed to be a laugh riot, I guess. Harry and Lloyd engineer getting free beers by sticking their hands up their asses and complaining that their beers smell like shit. Then they forget where their hands have been and eat foods with a lot of unnecessary finger-sucking. If any of you have seen the Kevin Smith movie “Mallrats”—and I’m assuming the Farrelly brothers have—then you know this is basically the stinkpalm scene, down to the finger-licking.
How could this happen?
Now that I’m done ranting about the details that didn’t work, I’m wondering how a disaster like “Dumb and Dumber To” could happen. How could the same incredible writers and talented actors get together twenty years later and create a sequel to their legacy that was this awful?
My fiance suggested that it’s laziness. I don’t know, of course, but my hunch is that it’s not. I don’t think anyone sets out to destroy their legacy. I don’t think the Farrelly brothers didn’t give a shit about this cult classic they created and simply cranked out a script for the money. It’s too cynical. My guess is that they’ve changed significantly in the past two decades, and they—as well as the actors—have grown out of touch with what regular people find funny.
I think the Farrelly brothers wrote the script for “Dumb and Dumber” not knowing that it was genius at the time, but simply because they thought it was funny and enjoyable and were motivated by its promise of making people enjoy themselves. They were relatively new in Hollywood at that time, as were Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels. They were still regular people, writing for regular people with regular senses of humor.
And of course, the movie worked: it spoke to people and made us laugh until we cried and quote for years. It was a critical and box office success that few producers ever see, elevating both the Farrelly brothers and the actors to A-list status.
People say that the movie business warps people. I don’t know if that’s true; I’m just a fan with no connection to the industry. But I imagine that making a movie that’s a huge success with a cult following has to affect you. Maybe it gets to your head. Maybe it inflates your head. Maybe you play Monday morning quarterback and fill in the blanks to explain why it’s genius after the fact, in hindsight, and you get it wrong.
I think that 20 years in the movie business changed the Farrelly brothers, Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, and everyone else who had a hand in “Dumb and Dumber.” Maybe they were normal people when they wrote the original, and they understood what normal people think is funny. But after two decades in the bubble of Hollywood, they lost touch with reality. The sequel feels like it tried excruciatingly hard, only to build a Frankenstein pieced together with formulaic pieces of the original mixed with a bizarre smattering of jokes that don’t work.
Seeing a bad movie doesn’t normally affect me too much. I make fun of it or zone out and stop paying attention. It doesn’t really bother me. Plenty of movies suck. I expect that. But when this one sucked, every moment was painful. I’ve never wanted to walk out of a movie before “Dumb and Dumber To.” Every bad joke or reference to the original tainted the original a little bit more. I almost wanted to preserve my naivette so I couldn’t face the fact that the creators failed that hard.
I’ll always love the original. It’s more than a movie for me; it’s a litmus test for sense of humor. It’s a pop culture touchstone, and the shittiness of the sequel doesn’t ruin the original for me. “Dumb and Dumber” is untouchable. The people who made it, though, decayed.
PS: If I asked Lloyd Christmas what the hell happened, he’d probably respond with this.
Originally published on my blog at sarahadowney.com.