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EMPIRE ESSAY: Dumb & Dumber Review

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The cross-country adventures of two good-hearted but incredibly stupid friends.

★★★★

Picture the scene. You are a Hollywood director relatively new to the industry. There you are, in the process of casting your latest movie (provisionally titled There's Something About Mary), and the actress you really want for the lead has just walked into the room. Her name is Cameron Diaz. She's even more perfect than you first imagined — beautiful, vivacious and charming. "What should I do?" you ask yourself. "Charm her with my debonair wit? No, no, she'll see right through that. Pamper her with gifts, maybe? Definitely not, way too tacky. Promise her riches beyond her wildest dreams, then? Hmmm, haven't exactly got the budget. It's a tricky dilemma." If your name, however, happens to be Peter Farrelly, the solution suddenly becomes clear. So you reach down, unzip your fly and pull out your scrotum for an airing.

The most significant thing about this particular incident (Ms. Diaz, incidentally, is said to have not been in the least bit perturbed) is that it occurred in 1997. When Peter and Bobby Farrelly first started out, way back in 1994, they were really crude. As a result, Dumb And Dumber, the Farrelly brothers' first movie, is as subtle as the proverbial fart in that proverbial lift. It is also a movie which scooped $340 million at the box office, spawned its own animated TV spin-off series, achieved the not-inconsiderable accolade of capturing the longest diarrhoea sequence ever put on film ("Our mother was on set that day," laughed Peter, "and she was like, 'This doesn't look good'"), and managed to offend most of middle America in the process. Not bad going for two Rhode Islanders who only months previously had never set foot in a movie studio. "It was a bit daunting," remembered Bobby. "So we turned up with two books: How To Direct and How To Direct Better."

The result remains certainly the Farrelly's, arguably Jim Carrey's, and hands down Jeff Daniels' funniest respective hours. What loosely passes for a plot sees dipshit duo Lloyd (Carrey) and Harry (Daniels) become embroiled in the elaborate web of intrigue surrounding stunning femme fatale, Mary (Holly). Lloyd is instantly smitten— "When I met Mary, I got that old-fashioned romantic feeling where I'd do anything to bone her" — and the pair head off on a quest to save her "lovely hooters", whatever bodily-fluid-based obstacles they may encounter en route. This, of course, is all merely a paper-thin excuse for a procession of gross-out gags. But, frankly, when the gags are of this quality—the nasal hair trimming, the stale urine drinking, the tongue on the ski lift, the infamous diarrhoea scene, and the "snowball" fight, to name but a few—the audience is in for a side-splitting ride.

Notable also for bringing together now ex-couple Carrey and Holly ("He was banging her first day," jokes Peter), just as Me, Myself And Irene would later do for Carrey and Renee Zellweger, Dumb And Dumber's ultimate achievement is one which, in truth, we should be none too thankful for. Because, in adapting the smutty slapstick of the late 70s/early 80s (Animal House, Airplane!) for audiences of the 90s, the Farrelly brothers single-handedly kick-started the recent glut of toilet comedy that, with the exception of American Pie (1999) and Road Trip (2000), has pretty much outstayed its welcome.

Nevertheless, seven years ago it was a revelation. Fine, so it sparked a national debate over "dumbing down" in the US, but .audiences voted with their feet, flocking to taste its suspect but hilarious charms. In fact, even Roger Ebert went on record to say: "There is a moment in Dumb And Dumber [the budgie sequence] that made me laugh so loudly I embarrassed myself." And if that isn't a telling indictment, then nothing is. "What can I say?" asked Peter. "We just like the absurdity that someone would sell a dead bird to a blind kid in a wheelchair."

Thus far, the brothers have failed to repeat the feat. There followed Kingpin, There's Something About Mary, Me, Myself And Irene and — as producers only — Say It Isn't So (the latter two falling a long way short of the mark). With more and more competitors at the bottom (tee-hee) end of the market, new gags have become something of a precious commodity.

"When we were filming Irene," remembered Peter, "Some of the crew went to see American Pie and came back and said, 'Uh-oh, there's a scene where this kid fucks a pie.' So we cut a scene in ours involving a watermelon with a hole in it, because we didn't want any comparisons." Thankfully, then, their very first directorial effort will forever remain the Holy Grail of lavatorial belly laughs, right down to a gift-horse-gazing final scene in which Lloyd and Harry turn down a job offer from the Gods. Dumb And Dumber? More like Dumbest, actually. And Amen to that.

A plethora of memorable scenes, this is some funny shit indeed.