By Alan Scherstuhl
By Amy Nicholson
By Charles Taylor
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Brian Feinzimer
By CAROLINA DEL BUSTO
By AMY NICHOLSON
By Amy Nicholson
In the newest comedy of bad manners from Bobby and Peter Farrelly, Jim Carrey plays a motorcycle cop named Charlie. A gentle soul with a jarhead haircut and Tom of Finland mustache, Charlie lives in a clapboard house on the coast of Rhode Island, and not long after the picture opens, he carries his bride over the threshold, which is about when his troubles begin. Reaching for his wallet, he inadvertently insults the limousine driver, a black dwarf with a hair-trigger temper who beats the cop to his knees. The image of a black dwarf taking down a white cop is startling enough, but the Farrellys up the ante by making the dwarf a university professor who's doing research from his driver's seat, as well as president of the state chapter of Mensa. Adding insult to Charlie's injuries, the little man is also catnip to the ladies, and he swipes the bride's heart before she's spent one night with her husband. Rarely has the reductio ad absurdum of white paranoia over black-male virility been as blissfully silly.
While it's not the funniest bit in Me, Myself & Irene, the exchange between the cop and the dwarf betrays a conceptual reach that the Farrelly brothers generally obscure with a fusillade of yucky jokes, bodily fluids and mortified flesh. There's nothing as remotely ambitious in the rest of the film, which was co-written by Mike Cerrone and is about Charlie, his mean-tempered alternate personality, Hank, as well as the women that one comes to love and the other to lust after (both played, wanly, by Renée Zellweger), and the three black sons Charlie has cheerfully—and unquestioningly—raised as his own. There's also some intrigue involving a country club and an overlong chase, but mainly this is about watching Carrey fling himself around the screen, manipulating his body and face into a cavalcade of amusements while his bipolar characters run a gauntlet of physical and emotional abuse.
By the time the kids are grown, Charlie has spent a lifetime swallowing his rage. One particularly bad day, though, the nice guy swallows himself whole and disappears, leaving a cretin named Hank in his place. Possessed of a sandpapery Clint Eastwood purr and a loose, lubricated shuffle, Hank is pure id—moments after being born, he dunks a surly tot in a fountain and plows a car through a picture window. Unlike his better half, Hank acts out, giving all of Charlie's rage and unsuppressed desire material form. He sucks on a lactating breast in one sequence, then, bouncing from the oral to the anal stage in the space of an edit, takes a shit on his neighbor's lawn, an outrage the filmmakers punctuate with a shock cut to soft chocolate ice cream spiraling into a cup. Since humor, like pornography, especially the coarser variant, works on a deeply subjective level, it's difficult to say why the image of Hank suckling at a tit seems funnier than one of him emptying his bowels, but it is.
Then again, part of it is the way the Farrellys set up their jokes. The breast-feeding laugh comes quickly, unexpectedly, built into the fast-sketch minutes during which Hank perpetuates his initial affronts. The defecation laugh, though, is telegraphed so well in advance that when it finally arrives, it's neither funny nor surprising, only gross. The germ for the joke is, as it were, planted in one scene (his neighbor's Great Dane has been fertilizing Charlie's lawn) but not paid off until after Hank wreaks havoc in town. By the time Hank returns home, we already know the punch line, yet we still have to wait for him to march across his neighbor's yard and into his house, then wait for him to march out with a newspaper, position himself on his neighbor's front lawn, unzip and squat.
For all their foul jokes and embarrassments, the brothers have a talent for creating characters whose goodness—and lack of ironic self-consciousness—shield them against life's insults. The trick and delight of Dumb and Dumber isn't that the titular fools don't get it, it's that they never do; even after they save the day, they're oblivious. Ben Stiller's love-struck character in There's Something About Mary is a swamp of shame, but it's his earnestness, his seriousness of purpose in the face of cringing humiliation, that shines through. His refusal to give up no matter what gives him a purity, even grace, that we tend to associate with small children, animals and the mad. As with all of the Farrellys' best characters, he never returns a joke with a knowing sneer, never solicits the audience's superiority. In such democratic comedy, the heroes may be dumb as posts, but they're no worse than anyone else, just funnier.
But Charlie isn't particularly funny, he's simply a pushover with a heart as big as the Ritz and the sort of luck that makes grown men weep at the craps table, while Hank is nothing more than a predatory jerk with a leer and a swish borrowed from Carrey's storehouse of masculine frippery. As his ostensibly serious roles have proved in films such as The Truman Show, Carrey may be a brilliant physical comic and an amazing mimic, but as an actor, he's not yet capable of bringing depth to a character if it's not there to begin with. Separately, neither Charlie nor Hank adds up to much, and while there was a time not too long ago when Carrey could have saved this film simply by wiggling his uvula, he's too famous, too important, or maybe just too self-important to make dumb work anymore. He's laughed his way to the bank, and he's not coming back.
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