As a lifelong movie fan, two irrefutable truths I have come to know is that Hollywood will create sequels at every opportunity and that film school snobs think maligning the very idea of sequels makes them poignant, serious artists.
These folks believe sequels are too corporate, too cynical, too mass-produced. They see Hollywood as the big, bad Onceler, clear-cutting original ideas and churning out Thneeds, while they’re all Loraxes, speaking for the trees.
The problem with this, aside from the obvious arrogance, is that people like sequels and have for thousands of years. Through the span of literature sequels have been present, many of them equaling or surpassing their originals, with notable examples like The Odyssey, various Greek myths, Henry IV Part 2, The Lord of the Rings, the Narnia series, Grendel and The Silence of the Lambs just to name a few. Throw in The Godfather Part II, The Empire Strikes Back and the entirety of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time and it’s hard to be anti-sequel.
And yet, every time a sequel to some beloved property or another comes out, so do the claws. While some, like the Star Wars prequels, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and plenty of slasher sequels earned their derision, many others like Ghostbusters II, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, the recent Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, the Pirates of the Caribbean series, and even Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd (which I continue to defend) got slapped with “Worst. Sequel. Ever.” labels faster than you can say “relevant Simpsons reference,” and without much justification.
Dumb and Dumber To is the most recent sequel to receive scorn from both critics and original fans and all I can say is: why?
Granted, the film is not without its problems. Some have noted certain jokes become too self-referential, and I can understand that. I don’t think we needed the fan service of the “second-most annoying sound in the world” and several other “nods” to the first film. This is a forgivable sin, though, since there are only a handful of these moments and the film does provide a lot of new situations for our characters.
Structurally, the film has also been compared unfavorably to the original, with the two leads once again going on a road trip with a MacGuffin in tow (an important package this time instead of a briefcase full of money). While it’s true, unoriginality in sequels can be tiresome, I think some films lend themselves to a formula more than others. Many great comedies are composed of a very loose plot with jokes pinned on, from the original Dumb and Dumber to Blazing Saddles to Anchorman to The Jerk. Placing that style of comedic filmmaking next to, say, Toy Story 3 seems unfair, and also, is missing the point.
The biggest problem as I saw it was Dumb and Dumber To’s first act. Though necessary, a good chunk of time is spent catching us up to speed with the characters and establishing plot motivations. While there are jokes throughout this section, they’re hindered by the fact that a lot of the gags had been seen in trailers, and the fact that some of the timing felt a bit off, probably due to the exposition present in the scenes. Once our guys hit the road, however, there are a lot of laughs to be had with plenty of fresh gags, fun montages and dream sequences, and like before, smart lines delivered by dumb guys.
This last aspect has always been the Dumb and Dumber series’ strength, and is the main reason I defend the prequel. The type of near-vaudeville-style dialogue the filmmakers were able to pull off in all three films has always impressed me, in that many of the best lines aren’t really “organic” to the scene like most modern comedy, but are mostly one-liners.
Harry and Lloyd essentially come from another era of Hollywood and comedic filmmaking. Not only are they named after silent comedian Harold Lloyd, and not only do they have the approximate hairstyles of Moe Howard and Larry Fine of the Three Stooges, but their demeanor and repartee make them characters that belong in a comedy of the ’40s, when audiences knew comedies only had to be funny and nothing else.
As proof of this, consider how revered the Marx Brothers are. Now I ask you, have you ever actually seen a Marx Brothers film? Judged by modern criteria they’re structurally a mess, but the charm and wit of those insane characters enacting a scheme (that the audience doesn’t and isn’t meant to care about) make Duck Soup, A Day at the Races and Horse Feathers (among others) classics. Dumb and Dumber To applies similar techniques, making its comedic roots run deep. If you remind yourself the film’s not trying for the sardonic silliness of Judd Apatow or Louis C.K., and is aiming for something much more old school, you’ll find a lot to enjoy.
It’s not that Dumb and Dumber To should be above criticism, nor should any sequel be. But “not as good as the original” (which the film isn’t) should not automatically equate to “festering pile of dogshit.” I was hopeful walking into the film. During that first act, I was worried, but as the road trip developed and Carrey, Daniels, and the Farrellys began to play, I was glad to be along for the ride.
If you see the movie and it doesn’t grab you, fair enough. But don’t let critics and die-hard fans make you think you’re a fool to enjoy it. That’s just dumb.