Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd

“Dumb and Dumber” was about dumb characters, but it was clearly made by smart people. Its prequel, “Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd,” is about dumb characters, too, but this time apparently made by people who weren’t very smart themselves. The film mocks its protagonists’ stupidity, blissfully unaware of how hypocritical that stance is in light of the cluelessness of the film itself.

I’m at a loss to explain why “Dumb and Dumberer” even exists, let alone to fathom any of the material within it. Events seem to transpire independently of each other, without regard for reason or sense, like a series of random sketches inspired by fever dreams. (The director and co-writer, Troy Miller, has had most of his experience working on sketch TV programs like “Mr. Show” and “The Ben Stiller Show.”)

For example: Since a bathroom scene is obligatory in a movie like this — especially after Jeff Daniels’ famous moment in the earlier film — the high school version of Harry (Derek Richardson) allows a chocolate bar to melt in his pocket, causing him to think, upon inspection in a bathroom, that he has had an “accident.” Inexplicably, the melted candy bar is soon all over the mirror and walls, as well as on Harry’s body, head to toe. How this much chocolate was obtained from a single bar is beyond me, and how Harry manages to smear it everywhere rather than simply washing it off his hands is even more incomprehensible. It does not matter that none of this would or even could occur in real life; what is important to the director is that the image of an entire bathroom slathered in chocolate goo is funny.

The story of Rhode Island dimwits Harry and Lloyd joins them in 1985, despite subtitles telling us 18 years have passed since Harry was born in 1969, which would make it 1987. Harry is adjusting to his first days in public school after being home-schooled all his life. He meets Lloyd (Eric Christian Olsen) immediately, and the sunny dunderheadism they share makes them fast friends. (Lloyd, by the way, lives at the school with his inexplicably Latino father, who is the janitor.)

Harry and Lloyd are called upon by the devious principal (Eugene Levy) to select classmates for the newly formed “special needs” class, of which they of course are charter members. The class is really just a ruse so the principal can embezzle extra funds from the state and run off to Hawaii with the lunchlady (Cheri Oteri); you will note that, despite the presence of Eugene Levy and Cheri Oteri, the film remains unfunny, a feat that must have required superhuman effort.

Since this film’s trailer is known to virtually anyone who has attended a movie within the past six months, it is worth observing that very few of the trailer’s scenes actually appear in the movie, apparently having been cut in the final edit. And while I applaud any efforts to make the film more endurable by shortening it, I fear it was overdone in this case. The closing-credits outtakes montage shows that several entire scenes were cut, and during the film proper, Harry has a flashback sequence in which he flashes back to things that did not actually occur in the movie.

This proves my major thesis, which is that the film barely has any structure at all, and that things can be added to or subtracted from it at will. It has the loose story of Harry and Lloyd being unwitting victims of the principal’s scheme, but then it has numerous unrelated sequences that have been included merely because someone thought they were entertaining, which, for the most part, they are not.

Olsen and Richardson are amiable leads, but they are light years from Jim Carrey’s awe-inspiring physicality or Jeff Daniels’ giggly inanity. That they resemble the other actors is their best asset, and you know you’re in trouble when you’re casting your film based solely on what people look like.

The one thing the movie has going for it is its relentless pursuit of verbal absurdity. There’s something almost Python-ian about exchanges like this:

HARRY: (holds up what is obviously a treasure map)
LLOYD: Is that what I think it is?
HARRY: No, it’s a treasure map.
LLOYD: Cool.

In talented hands, characters as harmlessly naive as this can be endearing, funny and memorable. Think of Peter Sellers in “Being There,” or hulking Lenny in “Of Mice and Men,” or even the clueless lot in “Waiting for Guffman.” Just because dimness is your subject matter doesn’t mean your treatment of it has to be dim. Dumbness is not the same as mindlessness. The Farelly Brothers knew that when they made the original; the people who made this movie don’t seem to know anything.

D (1 hr., 21 min.; PG-13, some profanity, a lot of crude humor, some gross-out humor, some sexual innuendo.)