Movie world's odd, dumb and rich couple

Jeff Daniels (left) and Jim Carrey’s Dumb And Dumber To was slammed by critics, but the audience loved it. -- PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE PICTURES
Jeff Daniels (left) and Jim Carrey’s Dumb And Dumber To was slammed by critics, but the audience loved it. -- PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE PICTURES

Twenty years on, Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels are older but not wiser in the sequel to Dumb & Dumber

On paper, Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels could not be more different.

Daniels, 59, is a well-regarded dramatic actor who earned a Golden Globe nomination for Woody Allen's The Purple Rose Of Cairo in 1985 and an Outstanding Lead Actor Emmy win last year for his role on television's The Newsroom.

Carrey, 52, made his name and fortune doing slapstick comedies such as the Ace Ventura movies (1994 and 1995) and Liar Liar (1997).

The contrast is even more stark in person, as when the pair met reporters in Los Angeles to talk about their new film, Dumb And Dumber To, which is showing in Singapore cinemas now.

Whereas Daniels acts his age and responds to each question soberly, Carrey is as disruptive as a bored five-year-old, grabbing this reporter's voice recorder and shoving it in his mouth mid-interview, just for laughs.

But it is clear that this odd couple also get along famously, and that is why they agreed to do a sequel to their moronic comedy Dumb & Dumber, which was a sleeper hit in 1994, grossing US$247 million worldwide.

Dumb And Dumber To sees them reprise their roles as dim-witted Harry (Daniels) and Lloyd (Carrey) as they go on yet another road trip, this time to find Harry's long-lost daughter. It topped the American box office last week, earning US$38.1 million (S$49.5 million) despite scathing reviews - and giving Carrey, whose films have not done well lately, his biggest success in years.

Asked what has changed for the duo over the last 20 years, Carrey deadpans: "We're both filthy rich."

Then he adds, with an impish glance at his co-star: "Me in money and him in spirit."

Of course, that is not the only new development since Peter and Bobby Farrelly's first avowedly stupid comedy baffled critics with its tale of two well- meaning numbskulls, which reviewers loathed but audiences seemed to love.

For one thing, Carrey has since shown that he is capable of more than gross-out gags and face-pulling.

With the critically acclaimed dramas The Truman Show (1998) and Man On The Moon (1999), he won back-to-back Golden Globes for Best Actor. The equally well-received Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004) completed the Canadian comic's reinvention as a serious dramatic talent, even though he continued to do his stock-in-trade madcap act with movies such as Yes Man (2008).

Daniels, on the other hand, has been quietly treading the boards. He wrote more than a dozen plays for the Purple Rose, a theatre company he founded in 1991, and earned a Tony nomination for God Of Carnage, a 2009 Broadway play. Three years later, he joined the cast of Aaron Sorkin's political drama The Newsroom, which led to more accolades, including an Emmy.

But lest you think they are overqualified to play the simpletons of Dumb And Dumber To, Carrey and Daniels point out there is more to comedy - even the most base, physical kind - than meets the eye.

"Comedy has a smaller target," Daniels says. "With drama you can get away with more, you can be adding three-digit numbers in your head, but in comedy you can't get away with it, there's a precision to it.

"Especially with something like Dumb And Dumber, which is so freewheeling, but it's still surgery. From the first movie, I noticed how precise Jim was with the timing and had an almost surgical approach to it. It's not a simple thing, and not everybody can do it."

With the first film, Daniels also recalls being advised to turn down the role of Harry.

"I personally loved the offbeat choice of doing that. But I had three agents on the phone with me the night before I flew out to do wardrobe fittings, with two of them going, 'This will ruin your career.'

"And I said, 'Well you know what, I want to work with Jim Carrey and that's the end of it. If it's mistake, it's a mistake. They think I can do comedy, so see ya later.'"

Carrey remembers: "He was there to class me up. There were a lot of comedians coming in to read with me, and when Jeff came in, it wasn't just somebody trying to look for laughs, but somebody who really was listening and communicating and connected."

The rest, of course, is box-office history. "Yeah, contrary to popular belief, I can actually enhance a career," quips Carrey.

Both the actors say they believe the Dumb & Dumber particular brand of humour, with its pratfalls and off-colour jokes, will be just as appealing today.

"I think funny is funny," says Daniels. "Some people keep going back to Dumb & Dumber, quoting lines they've heard 100 times. I don't understand that, but it exists."

Carrey agrees, adding that Harry and Lloyd's mutual affection is a big part of why these guys resonate with audiences. "The characters love each other, and that doesn't go out of style," he says.

"And I think people need something ridiculous. Ridiculousness is important. There are a lot of comedies that make you go, 'Hmm, that's interesting', and they don't make you laugh. And we need to laugh, as a species. So to me, if you're going to do a comedy, do something that flat-out makes people lose control of their bowels."

It was easier than expected for them to slip back into character.

"We're just 20 years better at what we do," Daniels says. "We know who Harry and Lloyd are, and the Farrellys know what's funny pertaining to this. So a lot of the work's been done for us."

It helped that the characters, while older, are not one bit smarter.

"They didn't grow," Carrey says. "The last thing you'd want them to do is grow or mature in any way.

"Because the way the world is, we need that innocence and that silliness. You can't beat people like that - they're not thinking about the world and the big picture. They're just thinking about what they want now and whatever's in front of them.

"And sometimes I find myself going, 'Ugh, I wish my life were that simple.'"

stlife@sph.com.sg

Dumb And Dumber To is showing in cinemas.