On first glance, they’re fully as dumb as movies get. If someone isn’t stacking beds together to open up more room for activities, they’re trying their damnedest to rip their underwear off intact. If they aren’t knocking over their shelves of marbles, they’re singing about dealing with a flesh-and-blood manifestation of their stress.
They are, by their nature, very stupid. It's in the surprise routes they take to their comedy, the suggestive flips they make to well-worn tropes, and the level of craft on display that these secretly clever movies punch above their peers. Occasionally, they even hint at something more subversive going on beneath the surface. These are stupid comedies with something smart to say.
- Photo: Paramount Pictures
Airplane!, the iconic Zucker brothers disaster movie parody, continues to play today as an 87-minute run of nonstop gags. While everything from Leslie Nielsen demanding not to be called Shirley to the long line to slap a passenger into calming down has been memed excessively at this point, the craft built into the film remains undeniable. Plus, that it functionally replaced the films it was mocking (most notably Zero Hour!, among others) as the defining film about high-stakes screw-ups that narrowly skirt tragedy is a testament to Airplane! as the superior work, bits and all.
Furthermore, that a plot exists beneath the sheer volume of jokes laid atop it is somewhat remarkable, yet exist it does. It even builds to a crash that, while not necessarily the greatest example of technical craft ever committed to film, is a lot of fun. Much like the Zucker brothers films that followed it, its confident, on-the-nose stupidity works because of its brazenness, not in spite of it.
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- Actors: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Leslie Nielsen, Ethel Merman, Peter Graves, Jonathan Banks
- Released: 1980
- Directed by: Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, David Zucker
- Photo: 20th Century Fox
Though the reputation of Mike Judge's Idiocracy has largely been salvaged by the events that followed it, the fact that it stands as a work with any relevance today ought to draw more tears than laughs. That's because the film, which came out in 2006, envisioned a future in which social standards had been so degraded by a decline in intelligence that humanity was teetering on the edge of destruction. More than a decade later, a lack of substantial global progress on curbing climate change, the rise of a reality star to the presidency, and the popular growth of anti-intellectualism have all served to make Judge's ignored-at-the-time comedy look like an impressively accurate predictor of where we were heading.
Luke Wilson, Dax Shepard, and Maya Rudolph play a trio who, with just enough brainpower between them (and Wilson's particularly advanced intelligence, which, the film underscores, is still not particularly great), team up and save the world by making some truly lowest-common-denominator "smart" moves. It's a solid premise on its own, but it works all the better every year that high-stakes mistakes continue to be made.
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- Actors: Maya Rudolph, Terry Crews, Scarface, Luke Wilson, Justin Long
- Released: 2006
- Directed by: Mike Judge
- Photo: New Line Cinema
True to its title, Dumb and Dumber still plays today for, well, being so masterfully dumb. Perhaps the Farrelly brothers' most enduring comedy, the Jim Carrey/Jeff Daniels vehicle boasts a number of great moments, including Carrey delivering the most annoying sound in the world directly into the ear of a heavy intent on ending his life, Daniels and Carrey donning some truly garish formal wear, and Carrey delivering the everlasting line, "So you're telling me there's a chance."
The film's particular brilliance rests on the alchemy of the star duo playing off each other. Prior to the film, Daniels had been known as a light comic foil whose cred came mostly from the likes of Something Wild and The Purple Rose of Cairo. Dumb and Dumber showcased a comic ability he hadn’t shown before, while also making room for the insanity that made Carrey one of the biggest actors of the '90s. Plus, for all its gag-heavy window dressing, on a plot level the film is functionally a class comedy. The combination of Harry and Lloyd's stupidity with their dire financial situation drives a good deal of Lloyd's motivation for pursuing the wealthy Mary in the first place, who stands as not only a romantic prospect but also as a path out of his less-than-great life. That he never quite gets where he hopes to go is, of course, yet another source of the comedy, but it's also a testament to the currents just below.
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- Actors: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Teri Garr, Lauren Holly, Cam Neely
- Released: 1994
- Directed by: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly
- Photo: Sony Pictures Releasing
While Adam McKay's late-period turn toward awards-oriented arch retellings of recent history has been successful in its own right (at least if Oscar nominations are anything to go by), his earlier work with Will Ferrell continues to stand as one of the great comedy runs of the 2000s. And, depending on how you feel about people who quote movies, you either love or hate the actor/director duo, as Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and The Other Guys served line after line that wormed their way into the culture.
It's Step Brothers, however, that best showcases the particular blend of smart writing/brilliantly stupid execution that made the McKay/Ferrell dynamic so lasting. From Adam Scott's performance as Derek, Ferrell's accomplished jerk of an older brother, to the now-immortal Catalina Wine Mixer, Step Brothers continues to play as the best case for the McKay team to dip back into their comedy well. Plus, running beneath the collapsing bunk beds and testicle-touched drum sets is a weird yet earnest story of two downright alienating guys overcoming their differences to connect with each other - in part to appease their respective parents, who are attempting to do something similar. In essence, Step Brothers manages to tell a base, but valuable, family story through a good deal of craziness, which its gags alone did not require to succeed.
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- Actors: Will Ferrell, Seth Rogen, Mary Steenburgen, John C. Reilly, Ken Jeong
- Released: 2008
- Directed by: Adam McKay