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Review: Dumb and Dumber (1994)

Dumb and Dumber (1994)

Directed by: Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly

Premise: A pair of dimwitted friends (Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels) take a road trip from Rhode Island to Colorado and get caught up in an extortion plot.

What Works: One of the breakout stars of 1994 was actor Jim Carrey, who starred in a string of hits that year, starting with Ace Ventura: Pet Detective followed by The Mask and culminating with Dumb and Dumber. All of those films have their virtues (although less so with Ace Ventura) but Dumb and Dumber is the best of those three projects and one of the best comedy films ever made. The movie centers on Harry and Lloyd, a pair of intellectually dense pals played by Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrey, who attempt to reunite a missing briefcase with its owner. Carrey and Daniels are one of the great comic duos in the movies, on par with Walter Matheau and Jack Lemmon or Bud Abbot and Lou Costello. There’s a long history of cinematic doofuses but Carrey and Daniels are unique in one particular respect. Comedy tends to keep its characters at a distance; that’s a requisite for holding someone to ridicule. If audiences get too close to the characters they will feel bad instead of amused by that person’s misfortunes. However, if the characters are too stupid or their misadventures become shrill (see: Adam Sandler), the movie becomes obnoxious. Dumb and Dumber strikes exactly the right distance and tone with its main characters. Harry and Lloyd are stupid but every once in a while they are given moments of empathy, such as when Lloyd confesses to feeling alone. These moments are never overplayed and the sentimentality is frequently offset by a joke but the scenes succeed in investing the audience in the characters; Harry and Lloyd are a bit like the family dog–dumb as a post but loveable and their road trip to deliver the briefcase is like a canine playing fetch, retuning the ball without knowing why. One of the outstanding qualities of Dumb and Dumber is the sheer volume of jokes that are crammed into this movie. The film features a variety of humor from gross out gags to word play to physical comedy and it often compounds the laughs, sandwiching a physical gag in between absurd dialogue. Although the movie is titled Dumb and Dumber, there is a genius to the writing and improvisation and the exchanges between Harry and Lloyd are a poetry of idiocy. That makes Dumb and Dumber one of the most quotable films ever made. 

What Doesn’t: The plot of Dumb and Dumber does not make a whole lot of sense but that is par for the course in comedy. Films in this genre tend to have looser narrative structures as seen in many of the great comedies like Caddyshack, Duck Soup, The Jerk, and The Blues Brothers. A lot of comic movie star vehicles—and Dumber and Dumber is certainly that—are about creating situations that unleash the comic potential of the lead talent. The movie’s plot may not add up but the film makes enough internal sense that it is cohesive. In fact, Dumb and Dumber features many storytelling choices that should be to the picture’s detriment but the filmmakers are able to break the rules and turn their subversion into comedy gold. This is most evident in the final scene of the movie. The ending of Dumb and Dumber does not really resolve anything but the final sequence is one of the funniest and most memorable moments in the movie because it is so comically anti-climactic. As great as Dumb and Dumber is, the film has been manhandled by Hollywood greed. The theatrical release of Dumb and Dumber ran 107 minutes and was rated PG-13. In 2008 an unrated cut of the film running 113 minutes was released on home video. On the whole, the additional footage does not improve the film. The original cut of Dumb and Dumber is an excellent example of judicious editing. Based on supplementary material on the video release, it is clear that the filmmakers allowed their actors to improvise on set and then cut down those performances in the editing room to capture the highlights. In the unrated cut many scenes are lengthened with material that isn’t as strong as what is already in the movie and the new footage ultimately dilutes the comic strengths of the film.  

DVD extras: The theatrical cut of Dumb and Dumber features a trailer. This version was only released in the DVD format. The blu-ray edition of Dumb and Dumber only includes the unrated cut as well as deleted scenes, featurettes, interviews, and trailers.

Bottom Line: Dumb and Dumber may not provide deep insights into the human condition and it isn’t a political diatribe or a groundbreaking piece of filmmaking. But it is damn funny and for a comedy to hold up two decades after its original release is an impressive feat.

Episode: #508 (September 14, 2014)