Though not particularly a fan of the Farrelly brothers (writer-directors whose films include There's Something About Mary, Kingpin, and Me, Myself, and Irene) and definitely not a fan of Jim Carrey's comedies, at its best I find Dumb and Dumber (1994) hysterically, fall-off-the-sofa funny. Though deranged limo driver Lloyd (Carrey) and best pal Harry (Jeff Daniels), a misbegotten dog groomer, frequently find themselves in crude, gross-out comedy situations, the script by Peter Farrelly and Bennett Yellin is actually quite clever. In the making-of documentary, the producers talk about laughing out loud reading the script, long before Carrey was even a consideration, and the quality (yes, quality) of the writing supports this. There's some very funny wordplay humor, the film is solidly structured and character-driven, and the timing of the performances and in the editing is spot-on. It may not be the most sophisticated comedy of the 1990s, but by all odds it's one of the funniest.
It's love at first sight for Lloyd Christmas (a reference to actor Eric Christmas, perhaps?) while chauffeuring Aspen-bound passenger Mary Swanson (Lauren Holly) to the airport in Providence, Rhode Island. At the terminal, she leaves a briefcase full of ransom money at a predetermined drop-off point, but Lloyd assumes she left it accidentally. Blindly smitten, Lloyd talks pal Harry Dunne into driving him all the way to Colorado to return the valise, unaware that kidnappers (Mike Starr and Karen Duffy) are hot on their trail, determined to recover the loot.
During the 1990s the Farrelly brothers all but cornered the market on gross-out humor, in arguably the most tasteless films since the early work of John Waters, but what really makes Dumb and Dumber memorable is that, thanks to the script and performances, the audience is always rooting for dopey misfits Lloyd and Harry. Our sympathy for them never wavers, despite their stupidity, utter lack of social skills, and occasionally scurrilous behavior. (Lloyd sells Harry's dead, decapitated parakeet to a blind child - in a wheelchair, no less - the bird's head crudely taped back onto its body.)
Lloyd and Harry are geeks in the circus sideshow sense, and yet no matter how absurd things get, their obvious affection for one another holds together like glue all the comedy set pieces; despite the frequent crudity of the humor, it's a relationship not all that far removed from Laurel and Hardy. Both teamings essentially involve childlike adults, innocents adrift in cruel world; where Laurel and Hardy were merely naïve, Lloyd and Harry are outrageously stupid. Though buddy / road movies are a dime a dozen, this particular type of character relationship is surprisingly rare in American film comedy, which tends to prefer the straight man / comic set-up a la Abbott & Costello, Martin and Lewis, etc. (The underrated Strange Brew  has similarly dense but affectionate characters.)
The film was produced just as Carrey's stardom was reaching a fever pitch; Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber all were released within a single year. Carrey's comic persona, especially the rubbery extremes of his facial expressions and body gyrations, was heavily influenced by Jerry Lewis's Kid character, especially Lewis's earliest days with Dean Martin (when Jerry was the monkey to Dean's organ grinder) but also the Jerry of films like The Bellboy and The Errand Boy. Carrey's role in Dumb and Dumber was the most Jerry-esque of his career, and some of his mannerisms unmistakably bear Lewis's signature, with strange Roddy McDowall-esque flourishes.
Yet in the end it's not an imitation but an engaging original character, and Carrey's endless inventiveness is almost awe-inspiring. Scenes that must have seemed pretty good on paper are many times more hilarious in Carrey's hands, whether it's illiterate Lloyd trying to read the word "the," or more showy set-pieces like Carrey's dead-on martial arts parody incorporating elements of both Bruce Lee and Sonny Chiba, or a side-splitting montage of Lloyd trying on various suits before he and Harry settle on a grotesquely loud ones the Hudson Brothers would have rejected. Though at the peak of his fame many found Carrey annoyingly broad, in the right role he's given extremely subtle, thoughtful, and detailed performances - especially in The Cable Guy, Man on the Moon, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Though Jeff Daniels's Harry comes off a bit more actorly - he's like Olivier to Carrey's Laughton - that he's able to hold his own against such an overwhelming presence as Carrey is itself an impressive achievement, and his solo scenes without him are memorable.
In the documentary, it's revealed that Dumb and Dumber was shot in a somewhat unusual manner. Typically the Farrelly brothers would shoot a take or two verbatim from the script, to make sure they had the minimum required coverage, but then allowed the actors to improvise. This seems to have resulted in a lot of unused material, but freeing up the likes of Jim Carrey unsurprisingly resulted in some of the film's funniest lines, such as Lloyd's reaction to a framed newspaper headline from 1969, about the Apollo 11 moon landing. "No Way! That's Great!" he exclaims, before shouting to everyone within earshot, "WE'VE LANDED ON THE MOON!"
There's also some funny wordplay throughout worthy of Abbott & Costello and their regular writer, John Grant:
Lloyd: I'll bet you twenty dollars I can get you gambling before the day is out!
Lloyd: I'll give you three to one odds.
Lloyd: Five to one.
Lloyd: Ten to one?
Harry: You're on!
Lloyd: I'm gonna get ya! I don't know how but I'm gonna get ya.
And, in its own way the film's so-called crude humor is more sophisticated than, say, the unpleasant, lame-brained slapstick of Home Alone, concurrently released to Blu-ray. Unlike that film, much of Dumb and Dumber's humor is reality-based, just stretched to grotesque, sometimes appalling extremes. In the making-of documentary included with this Blu-ray release, Jeff Daniels amusingly recalls no less than Clint Eastwood telling him that, like Daniels' character in the movie, he too once picked up a date only to be overcome with, ahem, major "stomach trouble" at her home, creating an awkward, embarrassing situation in her bathroom.
Video & Audio
Filmed for 1.85:1 spherical projection, Dumb and Dumber is presented here in an eye-pleasing but not overwhelming 1080p, 1.78:1 full screen image. Title elements and other opticals are noticeably grainier, but generally the image is fine, if unspectacular.
A Dolby SR Stereo release in theaters, the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes are both fine, with the well-selected music by Butthole Surfers, Green Jelly, etc. coming off best. A German 2.0 track is included, and includes English and German subtitles. (What happened to Spanish and French?)
This release includes the 113-minute unrated version only, which has extended footage and alternate takes. Kudos to Warner Home Video for making this disc viewer-friendly compared to other labels' discs, especially Fox and MGM. The disc loads quickly with a minimum of FBI and Interpol warnings, goes straight to the film, and the special features menu tells you what everything is. Best of all, the viewer can stop the film without having to reload the entire program, unlike Fox and MGM releases.
None of the supplements are new to this Blu-ray edition, and all are in standard-def: Derived from a January 2006 "Unrated Edition" are: Additional Scenes and Alternate Endings; 'Still Dumb After All These Years' documentary; Deliriously Dumb Moments; and Trailers. Most of the main cast and crew participate in these supplements, with the notable exception of Carrey and the Farrelly brothers.
I enjoyed Dumb and Dumber when it was new, but wondered whether it still held up, or that perhaps I was in an unusually receptive mood when I saw it. Watching it again I laughed louder and longer than ever, and my admiration for it has grown considerably. Though not for all tastes, with the right audience it's 113 minutes of almost unabated hilarity. Highly Recommended.
Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's latest book, The Toho Studios Story, is on sale now.