Wayback Wednesday: Sequels from Hell Part 2

I have written many reviews that have long since disappeared from the interwebs. On Wayback Wednesday, I bring them back. Last time, I did sequels nobody asked for. This week is the sequel to that.

Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd
82 min, PG-13 (crude and sex-related humor, and for language)
Grade: * (1 out of 5)

Dumb and Dumberer is perhaps the most ill-conceived attempt at extending a franchise since the Pink Panther movie that was stitched together from outtakes after Peter Sellers died. It’s not too late – New Line Cinema can still destroy all the existing prints of this fiasco and instead release a behind-the-scenes documentary on the decision-making process that led to its creation. That would surely be ten times funnier, and they could even keep the title.

It’s not as if the original Dumb and Dumber were some untouchable piece of timeless art. It did have a couple of things going for it that the follow-up sorely lacks, namely Jim Carrey and the Farrelly brothers. In 1994, before too many people had told them they were geniuses, Carrey and the Farrellys were a match made in slob-comedy heaven. Together they brought an anarchic, anything-goes sensibility to some of the most lowbrow humor ever to reach the silver screen.

A lot has changed in nine years, and any number of recent comedies make Dumb and Dumber look like His Girl Friday. At the very bottom of the barrel, you’ll find this prequel, helpfully subtitled When Harry Met Lloyd. Set in 1986, the movie indeed tells the tale of how floppy-haired moron Harry Dunne (Derek Richardson) met chipped-toothed ignoramus Lloyd Christmas (Eric Christian Olsen).

The devious principal of Providence Hills High School has concocted a plan to bilk an educational foundation by setting up a phony Special Needs department within the school. He plans to take the proceeds and purchase a condo in Waikiki, where he will vacation with his lover, the scheming lunch lady. Harry and Lloyd are the initial recruits for the special class, and together they round up a gang of misfits who jump at the opportunity to earn a grade by doing nothing. Jessica (Rachel Nichols), a reporter for the school newspaper, suspects something is amiss with the new program and enlists the unwitting duo to aid her investigation.

The bulk of the movie consists of Harry and Lloyd making funny noises, slapping at each other and engaging in witless slapstick. Olsen and Richardson do third-rate impressions of Carrey and his Dumb and Dumber cohort Jeff Daniels, while even comic talents like Eugene Levy and Cheri Oteri (as the principal and lunch lady) are unable to wring laughs out of the material. Indeed, the only real chuckle comes when Jessica’s father (Bob Saget) discovers the mess Harry has made of his bathroom. When Bob Saget is the funniest part of a movie, something has gone terribly awry.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2

117 min., PG-13 (mature material and sensuality)
Grade: ** (2 out of 5)

Having reviewed the first installment of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, I should probably state for the record that I am still not a 12-year-old girl, and that, much like its predecessor, this movie was not made with me in mind. In fact, the target audience appears to be people who just want to watch the first Traveling Pants movie again.

As fans of this junior league Sex and the City quartet will recall, the sisterhood found a magical pair of one-size-fits-all jeans in a thrift store – the traveling pants that kept them linked through their first summer apart. As Sisterhood 2 opens, another summer has arrived and the presumably freshly laundered pants are making the rounds again. Smart Carmen (Ugly Betty’s America Ferrera) is in Vermont, working backstage for a theater company. Shy Lena (Alexis Bledel) has traded in one romance novel cover boy for another as she studies drawing at the Rhode Island School of Design. Sexy Bridget (Blake Lively of Gossip Girl) is on an archeological dig in Turkey for some reason, while sassy Tibby (Amber Tamblyn) is writing a screenplay and working at a video store in New York.

Each member of the sisterhood gets her own soap opera mini-crisis, from Bridget’s reunion with her estranged grandmother to Tibby’s pregnancy scare. All of this melodrama feels like re-heated leftovers from the first movie, particularly the spats among the four friends (mostly separated throughout the film). Really, they have to reaffirm their eternal, wonderful friendship yet again? Maybe it’s time to move on. No such luck, however, as just when everything appears to be resolved, the treasured pants go missing. It’s yet another crisis and yet another 20 minutes for a movie that already feels overlong.

Admirers of the young actresses (who, if press reports are to be believed, basically did this sequel at gunpoint) won’t be disappointed by the performances, particularly from the very funny Tamblyn and the always endearing Ferrara. Other than that, here’s hoping those pants have reached their final destination.

Exorcist: The Beginning
114 min., R (strong violence and gore, disturbing images and rituals, and for language including some sexual dialogue)
Grade: F

As those who have followed the tortured history of this prequel to the 1973 hallmark of horror The Exorcist already know, the project has been plagued by demonic forces since the beginning. The first version of the film was shot by director Paul Schrader (Cat People, Affliction), who apparently didn’t deliver enough gore to satisfy the studio suits. The much more audience-friendly filmmaker Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger) was brought in for re-shoots, and eventually turned in an entirely different movie.

By now, Warner Bros. executives may be wishing they’d stuck with Schrader’s version. The Exorcist: The Beginning was not screened for critics in time for opening day reviews, a sign that the studio is hoping for one big weekend before the word gets around: this is the prequel from hell.

A revisionist account of Father Merrin’s first encounter with demonic possession, The Beginning centers on an archeological dig in post-World War II Egypt. Merrin (Stellan Skarsgard in the role originally played by Max von Sydow), who has lost his faith for reasons that are unveiled gradually throughout the movie, is summoned to Cairo, where an ancient Roman Catholic church has been unearthed.

There is no record of such a church this far from the Vatican, and a trip inside the well-preserved but creepy structure does little to set Merrin’s mind at ease. Tension between imperialist British soldiers and the local villagers is high, and packs of wild hyenas prowl nightly. If that weren’t bad enough, it appears that a demonic entity has taken over the body of a local boy.

An orgy of repulsive special effects ensues. Faces covered in oozing pustules, babies swarming with maggots, small children ripped apart by ferocious animals _ these are but a few of the treats that await lucky viewers. There’s nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned splatterfest, but Harlin’s attempts at replicating the solemn tone of the original Exorcist clash with his popcorn-picture instincts. Worst of all is the questionable use of flashbacks to Nazi war atrocities; the implied link between those real-life horrors and this low-rent creepshow is perhaps the movie’s most offensive element.

Bad movies aren’t what they used to be. John Boorman’s Exorcist II: The Heretic and William Peter Blatty’s Exorcist III: Legion were both train wrecks in their own way, but they each had fascinating quirks and inventive moments of terror. Harlin settles for trying to resurrect the first movie’s possession effects, but the results are more reminiscent of Beetlejuice. This demon has been unleashed one time too many.

– Scott Von Doviak


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