Dir: Troy Miller. US. 2003. 82mins.

A dead-on impression of Jim Carrey in one of his most popular early performances may not be a bad asset for a belated follow-up to a gross-out comedy classic. But without the real Carrey - or original writer-directors the Farrelly brothers - in attendance, New Line's prequel to 1994 smash Dumb And Dumber is bereft of the kind of cheesy charm and romantic poignancy that turned the original into a $250m worldwide success. Opening wide this weekend in the US and UK, Dumb And Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd should have enough initial appeal for a strong theatrical opening but will probably fall well short of the original's impressive grosses ($127m in the US and $120m from international markets), even if video and TV sales help make up some of the difference.

The Farrellys scored their first big hit with the introduction of Carrey's Lloyd Christmas and Jeff Daniels' Harry Dunne, two eternally optimistic losers united in idiocy. The prequel, written by newcomer Robert Brener and director Troy Miller, has Lloyd (Olsen) and Harry (Richardson) meeting as hapless 1980s high schoolers.

Assigned to a phony 'special needs' class by scheming Principal Collins (Levy) and his lunch-lady mistress (Oteri), the boys fall in with a number of other misfits and catch the attention of pretty school newspaper reporter Jessica (model-turned-actress Nichols). Competing for Jessica's affections, Harry and Lloyd become accidental heroes when they stumble on a way to uncover Principal Collins' latest moneymaking plot.

Even with a running time of just 82 minutes, the film contains a lot of padding, most of it in the form of throwaway comedy bits. Several of the routines are recreated from the first film, the most notable being Harry's messy misadventure in the toilet of Jessica's suburban home. The prequel's sense of humour is slightly raunchier than the original's (though the US rating is once again PG-13) and the suggestion that Harry and Lloyd may actually be more than just dumb occasionally produces a bad taste that was missing from the original.

Director Miller is best known for his TV work (on HBO's Mr Show) and he gives the film an uneven, episodic pace that sometimes undermines the action's comic effect. What the prequel lacks most, however, are the moments of pathos that marked the original. As adults, there was something touching, even noble, about Harry and Lloyd; as teenagers they are just, well, dumb.

Some of that may be down to the performances. Olsen does an impressive job mimicking the physical aspects of Carrey's original Lloyd, but the performance feels soulless and never elicits the empathy that Carrey produced. Richardson plays Harry as a more pathetic character than the good-natured slob created by Daniels and the teaming has little of the original pairing's chemistry. The supporting players are reliably amusing, though the film would have benefited from more use of such seasoned performers as Levy, Rogers (Harry's mum) and Guzman (Lloyd's dad).

Prod cos: New Line Cinema, Dakota Pictures
US dist/int'l sales:
New Line
Exec prods:
Toby Emmerich, Richard Brener, Cale Boyter, Bennett Yellin
Oren Koules, Charles B Wessler, Brad Krevoy, Steve Stabler, Troy Miller
Robert Brener, Troy Miller
Anthony B Richmond
Lawrence Jordan
Eban Schletter
Main cast:
Eric Christian Olsen, Derek Richardson, Rachel Nichols, Cheri Oteri, Luis Guzman, Elden Henson, William Lee Scott, Mimi Rogers, Eugene Levy