By Bill Arceneaux
Is anyone actually excited for Dumb and Dumber To? The release of the first trailer came late at night, probably to lessen and push off potential backlash. The footage I witnessed felt like a fake trailer; something made by fans as a youtube goof. To my horror, I saw it as an official preview at the theater recently. It is the living embodiment of what is wrong with assembly line productions, filled to the brim with “remember this?” moments and a disingenuine attitude. It’s almost as bad as a teaser for an Adam Sandler film. Why do you torment us so, Hollywood?
To my delight, the feature presentation at this screening understood and even agreed with my frustrations.
The team responsible for this outing – Phil Lord and Chris Miller – are quite familiar with sending sarcastic messages to film financiers. Their last movie, The Lego Movie, was a masterclass in getting away with subversive behavior in what is essentially a family flick – well, subversive when compared to potential corporate cash grabs. It’s not quite a full fledged middle finger to the establishment (from within the establishment), but rather a snarky comment to your boss. A thing of beauty, it is.
I suppose the next step from snarking off at work is to begin pranking. That would be 22 Jump Street. Full disclosure: I have yet to see the first one. But, based on the sequel, I really don’t have to. A quick montage sums up the happenings, then we jump right in to some self awareness. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are told, at just about every corner, that they need to do exactly what they did before for the events to be a success. This is, of course, the basic formula for mediocre sequels.
More references are made to these insider details, one on top of another. By the end, things devolve into complete parody, with dialogue and actions becoming purposely more generic and easy. It’s a comment on the very thing they are making! If I hadn’t been in public, tears might’ve streamed down my face in joy – the sequel/prequel/remake/reboot saturated media needs to be taken down a tad. This helps with the pain.
To make a near two hour comedy sketch on the stupidity and tired nature of film franchises is quite the ballsy move. Not all audiences are going to understand, and not all producers are going to like it – especially if the audiences are turned off. Thankfully for all, Lord and Miller are quite clever, and the lead actors play along, even making fun of their own careers and personalities. It could’ve been a trainwreck, being so meta in a movie like this. It has been attempted before (A Very Brady Sequel, for example), but never with such richness and depth. Without this, the movie would’ve suffered from the ultimate irony; being as boring as the kind of project it’s making fun of. The characters and their conflicts don’t matter here (they never really did), the filmmakers and actors know the audience didn’t come for that, and just deliver smart wackiness.
Within this riff lies an actual movie, and that actual movie is actually funny.
Not too blunt and not too subtle, 22 Jump Street is a masterful exercise in screenwriting and self referentialism. I’d be willing to list this next to Airplane! as one of the best spoofs ever, despite the fact that it’s spoofing it’s own existence. Could Dumb and Dumber To be that brilliant? Only if that directing duo doesn’t hold the characters and story in such high regard. Which I get the feeling that they do. In which case, it’ll be another one for the heap.
It’s a Sequel, and They Know It
By Bill Arceneaux