Review: ‘Dumb and Dumber To’ is a gentle but genuine Farrelly Bros comedy

It feels like only ten minutes ago I was writing about the work of Sean Anders and John Morris.

Oh, wait, it was. November is a big month for the comic filmmakers. They're the writer and director behind “Horrible Bosses 2,” and they wrote the script for “Dumb and Dumber To,” the twenty-years-later sequel to the first film by Pete and Bobby Farrelly, who are once again directing, with Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels returning to their roles as well.

I had to go back after seeing “Dumb and Dumber To” and see the first film for the first time since it was in theaters. While I love rewatching movies, I also see so many new films every year that there are times I just never quite get around to seeing something a second time. It's been an interesting 20 years for the Farrelly Brothers, and in that time, I've gotten to know them and their work fairly well. What I love most about their world view is how inclusive it is. When you look at the background and the foreground of a Farrelly Bros film, you see a world with way more hue than you normally see from Hollywood, and you see a world in which people with disabilities are front and center and not shoved off into corners or just out of the camera's range.

What surprised me, though, is how much the overall tone of their filmmaking has changed between the first and the second “Dumb and Dumber.” The first film worked because it dropped these two outrageously drawn characters into a very recognizable and normal world. What's changed for the sequel is something that has developed over time as they've made movies, a shift in the reality around the central characters. Now, the world is just as exaggerated and outrageous as Harry (Jeff Daniels) and Lloyd (Jim Carrey), which means gags can be far more cartoonish and can involve anyone.

In the first film, both Harry and Lloyd talked about a woman named Fraida Felcher, and she plays a pivotal role in this one as well, when Harry becomes convinced that he's got a daughter by Fraida who he's never met. This kicks off a road trip that first takes them to Fraida (played by Kathleen Turner), and then in search of Penny (Rachel Melvin), who certainly seems to be a chip off the old blockhead. As in the first film, there's a criminal plot that Harry and Lloyd are unaware of, this time involving a pair of lunatics played by Rob Riggle and the very kinky Adele, played by Laurie Holden.

There are gags that work, that pay off in a big way, and gags that fall flat, derailing entire sequences. Because the world around them is so absurd, the film's attempts at creating some genuine heart for Harry and Lloyd doesn't really work. It's all played way too silly for any of it to count. For me, the biggest problem is an unfortunate by-product of getting too familiar with a comedy filmmaker. By now, I know the way the Farrelly Brothers build gags, and I have a pretty good idea of how they'll twist a punchline, and so much of comedy really working on you is surprise. It's not their fault… they are very true to their own voices, and I think they've made exactly the movie they set out to make. It's just that it felt familiar to me, and that muted the film's overall impact.

There is something odd about seeing Carrey and Daniels at this age playing these characters, but they somehow manage to reclaim some actual innocence for these goofballs by the end of the film. That strange mix of the very crass and the very sweet is a big part of what makes the Farrellys who they are, and when it works, “Dumb and Dumber To” is a reminder of why we found them funny in the first place.

“Dumb and Dumber To” is in theaters tomorrow.