- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 12, 2003

Singer Nick Lowe told us “you gotta be cruel to be kind, in the right measure.”

A similar maxim holds true in comedy. Movies featuring thickheaded heroes have to be smart enough to wring humor out of the moronically dumb.

The 1994 feature “Dumb and Dumber” proved this in fitful doses, aided by the crafty pairing of Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels.

“Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd” doesn’t have either of those stars, nor does it boast the kind of smarts to pull a dumb-guy comedy over on us.

The biggest difference is the absence of the Farrelly brothers. The hit-or-miss comedy duo (1998’s “There’s Something About Mary”) passed on the creative torch to the far less inspired Troy Miller (1998’s “Jack Frost”).

Set during the “Dumb” characters’ teen years, this slapdash prequel takes a kitchen sink approach to humor, hurling jokes at us in such succession it never gives us a chance to breathe. That pace also won’t let us appreciate two young performers who look and act remarkably like the original actors.

“Dumberer” introduces us to young Harry (Derek Richardson), a home-schooled nitwit about to join the public school system. Harry literally bumps into Lloyd (Eric Christian Olsen) while walking to class, and the ensuing collision chips Lloyd’s front tooth, an homage to Mr. Carrey’s dental work in the original.

The pair soon stumble into a money-milking plan by the school principal (Eugene Levy). The school is creating a new special education class to gain outside funding, which the principal will pocket. Mr. Levy recruits the duo to find similarly “special” students for the class, taught by the amorous lunch lady (Cheri Oteri) with whom he is having an affair.

The new class smells fishy to high school journalist Jessica (Rachel Nichols), who enlists Harry and Lloyd to find out the truth.

The pair unwittingly help Jessica without ever understanding the stakes. They also bicker over who will win Jessica’s heart, even though the brainy beauty finds them both “special” — but not in that way.

“Dumb and Dumberer” fashions one improbable set piece upon another to showcase the leads’ unrepentant density. They chug icy slushies — freezing what little gray matter they have — tool around town on the school’s floor waxer and cheer when they first see the “short bus” assigned to their class.

“The cool kids always ride in the back seat,” they cry. On a short bus, however, every seat is in the back.

That’s pretty much the level of humor here.

Mr. Miller enlists, and then wastes, a solid supporting cast. Mr. Levy, so good at bringing middling material to life, can do nothing with the role of the oily administrator. Miss Oteri snares a few laughs, but she, too, can do better. Rising character actor Luis Guzman (“Anger Management”) and Mimi Rogers (“The Mirror Has Two Faces”) flesh out the overly talented troupe.

The biggest mistake “Dumberer” makes, beyond creating a laugh-free final reel, is not letting us enjoy the awkward grace of its characters. You can call Harry and Lloyd many things — the list is endless — but the two bumble through life with an endearing, childlike innocence, transforming every schoolyard taunt into blissful acceptance.

Mr. Richardson and Mr. Olsen share the thankless task of re-creating two highly stylized performances. Mr. Olsen’s added burden, though, is replacing our most gifted physical comedian — Mr. Carrey. That both actors manage to pull it off speaks well of their futures. They look and, more unerringly, sound like the original stars.

Overall, die-hard fans of the original film might be curious to see what creative liberties “Dumb and Dumberer” takes with the source material, and children may chuckle at the forced gaiety. Everyone else will be left numb by this “Dumb” prequel.

* 1/2

TITLE: “Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd”

RATING: PG-13 (Excretory humor, occasional foul language and sexual innuendo)

CREDITS: Directed by Troy Miller, screenplay by Robert Brener and Mr. Miller, from a story by Mr. Brener

RUNNING TIME: 85 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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