Dumb and Dumber
Directed By: Eli Drinkwitz
Starring: Nick Bolton, Martez Manuel, Tyler Badie, Grant McKinniss, Connor Bazelak
Synopsis: Two equally troubled teams meet up for an adventure to prove that even bad football is still good for the soul.
Sometimes, a film doesn’t have to be technically good in order to make you smile.
Take, for instance, the latest production out of Mizzou Studios. After a long, unexpected hiatus, fans and critics were hard-pressed to predict what would come out of a studio that has been exciting, if sometimes downright bad. Would we be in for a masterpiece, a total flop, or something in between? It turned out to be the third option, and the final result has both pros and cons that don’t ultimately overshadow the good feelings the production provides.
In Dumb and Dumber, Drinkwitz tells the story of two outcast SEC programs just looking to catch a break. One school can’t get out of its own way between firing head coaches and losing players to greener pastures. The other seems struck by an inauspicious run of fate, sidelined from football for every reason under the sun and running thin on reserves. Together, the two go on a journey in search of the Mayor’s Cup. But we end up discovering that the Mayor’s Cup is just a McGuffin — the true Mayor’s Cup is the football we played along the way.
The strange and wonderful thing about Dumb and Dumber is this — it’s really not that good or masterfully done. In fact, it can be downright bad sometimes. The pacing is uneven at best, sometimes too slow and sometimes just right without ever settling on consistency. The execution, particularly from Drinkwitz’s director’s chair, is uncharacteristically bland and has a trickle down effect to the performers on screen. Sometimes it feels like there are people literally missing from the production — hang on, my sources are telling me this is, in fact, true.
In spite of all this, there’s a strange, plucky magic present that transforms the production’s flaws into quirks. It’s hard to tell from where this immeasurable feeling emerges. Perhaps it’s the performances, some of which seem too brilliant for the story in which they’re encased. Take Nick Bolton, for example. One of Mizzou Studio’s brightest stars in years, Bolton is great to the point where he feels out-of-place. Nevertheless, his energy seeps into the rest of the cast — especially in upstart star Martez Manuel’s performance — elevating the material above its meager surroundings.
You could also make the case that Drinkwitz is far more adept at crafting successful productions than his experience would suggest. We’ve already seen in his young career how the director is able to adapt styles to fit his talent. Perhaps then he isn’t aiming for masterpiece theater in Dumb and Dumber. Maybe instead, he sees the value in something rougher, something a little more uncut. Would it be nice to produce something more polished? Of course, but there’s charm in being successful when the odds are stacked against you. Hell, that’s the whole point of this story!
There’s even some delightful charisma in the film’s quasi-rivalry between the Tigers and the Gamecocks. The latter, a pseudo villain, pivots suddenly about halfway through the movie, introducing unknown talent Luke Doty into the story. It’s a risky move, but it pays off, adding narrative tension and thematically appropriate chaos into the proceedings. The end result is greater investment in the story for those rooting for both of lovable losers on screen.
Of course, one could argue that there ultimately has to be a winner. I suppose by the strict rules of engagement, there is. But to simply assign a win and a loss would be, I think, a gross misunderstanding of this story’s main virtue: It’s fun to watch football, and it’s less fun to not watch football.
There are, after all, no sweeping indictments to be made after the conclusion of this film. Neither of these two programs will ultimately make some sort of grandiose statement in the world of college football, at least not in the near future. And when the viewer separates themself from any notion of greater importance, the pure pleasure of watching two scrappy programs go on an adventure together can set in.
Perhaps it’s appropriate that this feature was released a week before Thanksgiving. Like many Thanksgiving dinners around America, this meal is comforting, if not critically marvelous. And sometimes that’s OK. Not every film has to live up to the heights of the Moe Miracle or Armageddon at Arrowhead. Sometimes you get a masterpiece and sometimes you get Dumb and Dumber. In this case, the latter does its job just fine.