Dumb and Dumber

dumb-and-dumber-orange-and-blue-tuxedos1That sound you hear across America is the collective brows of movie critics crinkling in dismay over the whirlwind success of Jim Carrey, the golden idiot of the moment. It was safe for critics to praise his previous hit, The Mask, because of its special-effects homage to Tex Avery; otherwise, Carrey is still considered a baffling anomaly. I hated Carrey in Ace Ventura — he was just too relentlessly “on” — but there’s no doubt that he can be ecstatically funny. In Dumb and Dumber, his new showcase, Carrey appears in a ridiculous orange tux and does a brisk, happy jig that recalls Steve Martin before he calcified into father-of-the-bridehood; it’s a vintage bit of physical buffoonery. Carrey surprised a laugh out of me at least once every reel. He doesn’t yet have the absurdist vibe that sent Martin into Looney-Tunes heaven in The Man with Two Brains, but give him time (and the right script). As his partner in dumbness, Jeff Daniels makes a game attempt at slob humor; he really tries. But his performance is like a New Year’s resolution to loosen up — there’s no real madness in anything he does. Daniels does have one tenderly loco moment, when he’s so enthralled by an attractive woman he’s talking to that he doesn’t notice his leg has caught fire. Otherwise, it’s completely Carrey’s show.

Dumb and Dumber isn’t nonstop hilarity; there are quite a few dead spots. But I liked it a lot. In its amiable narrative shabbiness, it reminded me of two other comedies I remember fondly even though they only made me really laugh two or three times each: The Jerk, with its blend of slapstick and surreal you-can’t-tell-why-you’re-laughing moments (“The phone books are here!”), and the 1982 Cheech and Chong vehicle Things Are Tough All Over, whose plot — a large amount of cash drops into the laps of two dimwits — is similar to Dumb and Dumber‘s. The director, Peter Farrelly, who also wrote the script with his brother Bobby and Bennett Yellin (and who wrote the autobiographical novel Outside Providence), sometimes opts for cruel humor: The boys make fast bread by selling their headless parakeet to a blind boy; a bad guy on their trail (the ubiquitous Mike Starr of Mad Dog and Glory, Trial by Jury, Cabin Boy, and Ed Wood) overdoses on chili peppers and mistakenly pops rat poison instead of his ulcer pills. I didn’t get the men’s-room gag with the truck-stop bully — it’s either homophobic or pointless — and Teri Garr doesn’t add much to her two scenes. Still, there’s always something strange or laughable every few minutes, including the very idea of Karen Duffy as a hit woman.

Pundits have speculated about the enormous success of Carrey and Dumb and Dumber (not to mention Forrest Gump), issuing somber pronouncements about the dumbing-down of America. Newt Gingrich and his pit bulls have their sights trained on PBS, and high-school grads are dumber every year. It’s probably the ideal time to go watch Jim Carrey be a moron: At least we’re not that bad yet.

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