In 1994, Dumb & Dumber was one of the funniest movies I had ever seen. My ten-year-old self loved the dirty jokes, the characters’ charming stupidity, and the childishness of it all. As the Farrelly Brothers’ Dumb and Dumber To shows, that childishness—specifically the odd innocence of the characters—was key to making the original picture work. The sequel replaces that childishness with a mean-spirited attitude that turns obliviousness into narcissism and antics into attacks. There are still some laughs scattered about, but the heartlessness of the picture makes Dumb and Dumber To too nasty to be dumb fun.
After Lloyd (Jim Carrey) plays an elaborate gag on Harry (Jeff Daniels) by pretending to be catatonic for twenty years, the two pals get back together, but Harry reveals he needs a new kidney. Lloyd callously shrugs it off, but when they discover that Harry has an illegitimate daughter, Penny (Rachel Melvin), they go to find her and see if she’ll be a donor. Along the way, they’re given an important and mysterious package by Penny’s adoptive father Dr. Pinchelow (Steve Tom), which can supposedly change the world once its presented at the “KEN conference” (i.e. the TED conference). Pinchelow’s duplicitous wife Adele (Laurie Holden) and her lover Travis (Rob Riggle) plan to swipe the valuable package and kill the hapless duo, but Harry and Lloyd’s raging incompetence proves to be both their protection and a frustration to everybody else.
Whereas Dumb & Dumber had a fairly straightforward, road-trip plot, the sequel is painfully ramshackle, which is surprising since the Farrelly’s followed Dumb & Dumber with three more road movies. In the sequel, the characters meander along until someone gives them a new task, and there’s never much urgency to get to Penny even though she needs the package before giving a speech at KEN. Instead, the film struggles to find new ways for the characters to hit dead ends and then drop some cruel jokes.
Since Dumb and Dumber To is always so eager to reference jokes from the first movie from quotes (“Want to hear the second most annoying sound in the world?” Lloyd eagerly asks Harry at one point) to dream sequences, and it’s a constant reminder of how the new film misses the larger picture of why Dumb & Dumber is hilarious and enduring. Yes, it’s filled with stupid jokes, but they’re almost all couched in Lloyd and Harry being childlike in their behavior. On the page Lloyd could have been incredibly creepy like when he asks Mary for a hug at the airport, but Carrey played the character as an innocent. It’s a schoolboy crush, and he’s making a grand gesture of his “love” for her by crossing the country to bring her back a briefcase.
Contrast that with Lloyd’s behavior in the sequel where Carrey chews every scene and yells through most of the picture. Over the course of the film, Lloyd mocks an Asian woman for speaking a different language; he indifferently tells an old couple that he was basically responsible for their son’s fatal motorcycle accident; he laughs at the notion of a female doctor; and when a female speaker gets on stage at the KEN conference, he and Harry shout “Show us your tits!” That’s not a couple of goofballs accidentally killing a hitman by aggravating his ulcer. Shouting sexist remarks at a woman is hateful behavior, and sadly, it’s emblematic of their actions throughout the film, not to mention the movie’s attitude towards women in general (with the exception of the female doctor, the women in Dumb and Dumber To are either whores or a half-wit).
Everything good about the film pretty much happens when the characters are disconnected from their surroundings. There are some good background gags and the Farrellys haven’t completely lost their knack for gross-out humor. Dumb and Dumber To isn’t anywhere near as bad as their worst features (their remake of The Heartbreak Kid is unwatchable), but they’ve clearly lost the pulse of their main characters after twenty years.
The meanest thing Harry and Lloyd do in Dumb & Dumber is sell a headless bird to a blind kid. In Dumb and Dumber To, they actively torment him and treat others the same way. I watched the first movie before seeing the sequel, and I was surprised that I could still laugh so hard at Jim Carrey biting a guy’s crotch, although I suppose it’s a bit odd that I’m still enjoying jokes that slayed me when I was ten. But perhaps I enjoyed the movie so much at that age because the characters were around the same intellectual level. Twenty years have passed, and Harry and Lloyd have matured. They went from sweet kids to despicable teenagers.