“A frayed string of gags posing as a movie": What critics thought of the first "Dumb and Dumber" in 1994

The verdict's in for "Dumb and Dumber To," and it's depressing. But at least critics loathed the first "Dumber" too

Published November 14, 2014 5:30PM (EST)

Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels in "Dumb and Dumber To"       (Universal Pictures)
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels in "Dumb and Dumber To" (Universal Pictures)

The long-awaited sequel to 1994’s "Dumb and Dumber" rolls out today, and the initial reviews suggest that the Farrelly brothers may not have redeemed themselves after that 20-year hiatus. As the Village Voice’s Stephanie Zacharek writes, “''Dumb and Dumber To' is mostly just a kick in the nuts, and not the good kind -- provided there is a good kind.” But while it seems unlikely that the 13-year-old boys of today will be quoting "Dumb and Dumber To" at their high school reunions 20 years down the line, it’s worth remembering that reviews can be a bad indicator of how a film will hold up over time, particularly when it comes to comedies (many of the comedy linchpins of my generation, like "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective" and "Billy Madison," were poorly received by critics when they came out).

Indeed, now the original "Dumb and Dumber" is regarded an unimpeachable classic. But when it first came out, critics were more lukewarm, to say the least. Sure, most agreed the film was elevated by the commanding presence of its lead actors (particularly Jim Carrey, who garnered a lot of comparisons to Jerry Lewis at the time). The plot, though, received such plaudits as "an execrable catalogue of doody jokes" and "stupid with jut-jawed determination." So in the name of historical perspective, here’s what the critics were saying about "Dumb and Dumber" way back when:

The Hollywood Reporter: The plot, of course, is merely an excuse for an endless series of gags, and the percentage of them that score is fairly high. But since the jokes are based over and over on the fact that Lloyd and Harry are really, really dumb, a certain repetitive factor sets in. Carrey is less effective here than he was in his previous roles ... He's just not as much fun playing dumb as he is acting demented.

New York Times: It is essentially a strung-together series of gags, most of them thought up by Lloyd, an inveterate practical joker. His pranks include sneaking red-hot chili peppers into the burgers of unsuspecting diners, plying pesky state troopers with urine-filled beer bottles and selling decapitated birds to children who are blind.

Entertainment Weekly:  Dumb and Dumber, which features Carrey and Jeff Daniels as nitwits who journey cross-country to return a suitcase full of cash, is a pokey, hit-or- miss buddy comedy, a frayed string of gags posing as a movie. Carrey and Daniels squirt themselves with mustard and ketchup, perform a spaz rendition of ''Mockingbird,'' and ride into Aspen on a tiny moped. Essentially, "Dumb and Dumber" is "The Jerk" with two jerks instead of one ... There may be limits to how much comic irony can be wrung out of the spectacle of two grown men acting like complete cretins. 

Roger Ebert: The purpose of a comedy is to make you laugh, and there is a moment in "Dumb and Dumber" that made me laugh so loudly I embarrassed myself. I just couldn't stop. It's the moment involving the kid who gets the parakeet. But because I know that the first sentence of this review is likely to be lifted out and reprinted in an ad, I hasten to add that I did not laugh as loudly again, or very often.

Washington PostAn execrable catalogue of doody jokes, “Dumb and Dumber” is an abominable, abdominal comedy. Aside from its tastelessness and dawdling pace, the movie’s chief problem is the lackluster chemistry between leading lummoxes Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels … Both actors are playing the same characters, and none of the supporting cast reacts to them as if they were the least bit peculiar ... Suffice to say the future doesn’t look bright for the Farrellys.

By Anna Silman

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