It’s been 45 years since Peter Sellers was unleashed as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau in the delicious Pink Panther. That 1963 film spawned numerous sequels and cartoons and in 2006 the baton was passed to Steve Martin -- who hatched a worldwide hit with his version of the French detective. In this meandering gag-laden sequel Martin is assigned to join a team of other famed international detectives and crime wizards to crack a case where priceless treasures are being stolen around the globe including of course the iconic Pink Panther diamond. Again aiding Clouseau in his own cause are his partner Panton (Jean Reno) and Nicole (Emily Mortimer) for whom he still has those amorous feelings. Let’s face it no one could top Sellers in this role and it’s wise that Martin doesn’t really try instead taking the character more toward The Jerk. Whether inadvertently burning restaurants down to the ground juggling wine bottles (in a particularly lame sequence) mangling the English language imitating the Pope or spouting hopelessly politically incorrect bon mots like calling an Asian colleague “my little yellow friend ” Martin plays it broadly and safely. As the quartet of international detectives brought in to solve the case with Clouseau Andy Garcia Alfred Molina Yuki Matsuzaki and gorgeous Aishwarya Rai Bachchan do everything they can to keep from being totally upstaged by Martin’s nonstop antics but it ain’t easy for any of them. Also of note: John Cleese takes Kevin Kline's place as Clouseau’s exasperated boss and Lily Tomlin Martin’s All of Me co-star are reunited here to teach him properly correct social etiquette. With a cast of capable comic veterans like this all any director would have to do is point the camera and make sure it’s in focus. And that seems to be ALL Dutch helmer Harald Zwart (Agent Cody Banks) has done. The PP template has been dumbed down to appeal to young kids and despite its picaresque Paris and Rome locations this comes off as surprisingly flat with a lot of comic possibility left twisting in the wind.
After nine grueling years we can finally stop wondering what happened that fateful day when Lloyd Christmas (Eric Christian Olsen subbing for Carrey) first crossed paths with fellow dimwit Harry Dunne (Derek Richardson replacing Daniels). It's 1986 the first day of the new school year and our two IQ-challenged heroes literally run into each other as they race to class. Before you can screech annoyingly they're bosom buddies and the star pupils in the school's special-needs class. Only the class is a scam organized by the conniving Principal Collins (Eugene Levy) to bilk the high school of a $100 000 grant. Of course there's no doubt these oblivious oafs will ruin Collins' plan to run off to Hawaii with horny lunch lady Ms. Heller (Cheri Oteri). Unfortunately we must first endure the forced and blatant rehashing of Dumb and Dumber's funniest moments. Cue bathroom mishaps endless games of tag a fire at a gas station and fights over a beautiful but attached gal (Rachel Nichols). Director Troy Miller even ends this shameless exercise in redundancy by duplicating the predecessor's hilarious final scene featuring scantily clad beauties. Miller and co-writer Robert Brener also offer very few new nuggets of information about the wheeler-dealing Lloyd and the sweet Harry. We do find out how Lloyd chipped one of his front teeth but that's pretty much it. By the time school's out it's clear that it's less fun watching juveniles act like juveniles than watching men act like juveniles.
"Imitation is the sincerest form of plagiarism " Carrey recently quipped to David Letterman about Dumb and Dumberer. He's right. With his bowl-head haircut and chipped tooth the gangly jug-eared Olsen could easily pass for a pimply faced teen-age Carrey. Close your eyes and you'll even swear it's Carrey uttering Lloyd's catchphrase "I like it a lot!" But Olsen doesn't possess Carrey's uncanny elasticity. His facial contortions look taut and strained not rubbery. And that robs this prequel of much of its comic possibilities. That said Olsen's undaunted by the task of making audiences believe he's not a pretender to the porcelain throne. He's always working to wring out as many giggles as possible from the lazy and inane script no matter how humiliating. Richardson however doesn't even try to muster as much as half of Olsen's energy and enthusiasm. He sleep-walks through the mayhem waking up to occasionally run his fingers through his unruly blonde 'do or to shoot off fretful glances whenever the going gets tough. The dumbest thing about the film though is that it gives Levy nothing to do except grope the game Oteri. You can't fault him for being bored embarrassed and unwilling to bring down this house with his customary scene-stealing antics. That leaves Bob Saget--of all people!--to provide the film's sole guffaw. All he's required to do is repeat an expletive--think fecal matter--again and again. But he's so consumed with spewing out this cuss-word that you wonder whether he's just releasing his pent-up frustrations about what his post-Full House career has amounted to. Who can blame him?
Congratulations Troy Miller you've done the impossible: make the fart-friendly Farrelly Brothers look like comedy sophisticates. Miller knows what's amusing and what isn't--he's worked for HBO's hilarious Mr. Show and Tenacious D. But he treats Dumb and Dumberer as nothing more than a cheap and cheerless attempt to belatedly exploit one of Carrey's early rubber-faced farces. Needless to say this is not the best way make us forget Harry and Lloyd's fitfully funny cross-country trek in their shaggin' wagon. Miller displays no respect for the Farrelly Brothers' commitment to passionate and painstaking execution of even the most simplest and crudest of gags. He merely bangs everything out with a minimal interest in style or originality. So there's no pleasure to be found in Harry and Lloyd's classroom disasters or their Jackass-inspired cart ride. He's also very sloppy with trying to maintain the facade of the 1980s. It's tough imagining you're back in the Me Decade when he has Lloyd prancing like the village idiot to Vanilla Ice's 1990 cringe-inducing "Ice Ice Baby" or he neglects to remove from a store rack a magazine with Chelsea Clinton on the cover. Then again perhaps Miller couldn't afford to hire someone to keep an eye on such Reagan era-related errors. So just how cut-rate is Dumb and Dumberer? Check out Lloyd's chipped tooth-it looks like someone barely remembered to black it out with a marker pen.
Dr. Matt Fowler (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife Ruth (Sissy Spacek) are throwing a summer barbecue at which their lone prodigy Frank (Nick Stahl) is proudly showing off his summer romance. Ruth vehemently disapproves: Natalie (Marisa Tomei) is an older single mother of two who is not quite divorced from the dark abusive Richard Strout (William Mapother) whose family runs their town of Camden Maine. For Frank Natalie is someone to keep the pipes greased before he heads off to study architecture at graduate school in the fall. Maybe. Frank is thinking of getting serious with Natalie and ditching school if Natalie would have him but there's that not quite ex-husband to deal with. The not quite ex-husband ends up killing Frank (this is supposed to be a plot twist but is the only action in the first two hours of the movie) which leads to much soul searching for Matt and Ruth--the raison d'etre of the movie.
With all due respect to Spacek who's been receiving a lot of Oscar buzz for her turn it's really Tom Wilkinson (The Full Monty Wilde The Patriot) who gives the most outstanding astonishing performance in this film. Matt's stilted missteps at each and every turn are so human so real you empathize with the pain he's feeling while you cringe at his every inappropriate action. An Academy win for Wilkinson seems more than merited though likely won't happen. Marisa Tomei is as good as she's ever been in the role of Frank's lover Natalie. The emotional tug-of-war in her relationship with Nick is clear on her face and the distress of never getting Ruth's approval is deafening. Spacek has a hard time claiming even the second-best performance of the film but she is compelling as Ruth the kind-hearted high school teacher who's become more closed and unforgiving than she ever imagined. You can see Spacek shutting down as her world crumbles around her. William Mapother and Nick Stahl do fine jobs with their (relatively) limited characters especially Mapother who is sufficiently creepy and desperate as Natalie's husband.
An actor turned director Todd Field wastes the fine performances in his debut film. Field seemingly likes to impart significance in the mundane moments of real life which works only sporadically. Field's direction is similar to Matt's reaction to his son's death: all of his actions seem stiff and mannered and when he does do something appropriate it's a complete accident. Worse Field leaves no room for character development only letting the characters descend further and further into despair ultimately turning the film into an art house Death Wish. (With apologies to Charles Bronson.) Given the supposed strength of the Maine proletariat it would have nice to see Matt and Ruth Fowler struggle against their evil inclinations before giving in so completely. Under Field's helming the film flounders at inopportune moments rendering the story utterly meaningless.