Born from The Big Lebowski and precursing Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle is the Ashton Kutcher/Seann William Scott buddy comedy Dude, Where’s My Car? It aims to please with goofy shenanigans and generally likeable leads, but ultimately fails to deliver many laughs. I’ve seen several critics place the blame on the filmmakers’ insistence on maintaining a PG-13 rating (the guys repeatedly refer to women’s breasts as ‘hoo-hoos’), which likely contributed to the movie’s lackluster qualities, but I’m not sure that that ultimate feeling of dissatisfaction can be blamed on the rating alone.
If you remember anything about the movie at this point, it is likely the infamous tattoo scene, wherein the two bros repeatedly ask each other what their new-found body art says (SPOILER: “Dude” and “Sweet”). I’d like to say that this type of humor is not representative of the film as a whole, but that would be a lie. There are at least four scenes that I can think of which hinge on the awesome humor of repetition for their effect. Is this something that thirteen-year old potheads – clearly the film’s intended audience – are known for appreciating? In subsequent years, the television program “Family Guy” has made a name for taking a joke way past its breaking point and then pushing it further so that it comes back around again. That sensibility is not apparent here, so these jokes go just long enough to be irritating.
It’s difficult to put into words the things that make a comedy fail without simply stating the obvious: “It didn’t make me laugh.” There are undoubtedly some brilliant moments that could be culled from the film and patched onto something more consistent. A quick sight gag (pun intended) has a child at a school for the blind being spun around in order to play ‘Pin the Tail on the Donkey’ sans blindfold. Another scene has a policewoman who laughs hysterically while explaining that Jesse’s car has been impounded – the moment is just bizarre enough to work.
That’s the word to explain the problems here: bizarre. I am reminded of Step Brothers, the awful Will Ferrell movie that was mostly improvised and with the goal of being as random as possible. Random, as a goal in and of itself, can be funny sometimes… but it is all too easy to force it, and that is a problem that this movie suffers from all too often. Without any direction, Dude ambles from pot-smoking dogs to irate ostriches to, um, Andy Dick. When not being purposely random, the movie hits all the lows of the worst cliches of comedy. Funny names? We got ’em. Homophobia? Of course. Hi-larious accents? You’re in the right place. Swearing grannies? Well, I don’t want to spoil the surprise.
There is a small group of dedicated fans whose retort to all this negative criticism is, “Well, what did you expect?” At first glance, it seems like a fair objection. You don’t walk into Dude looking for a five-star film, and so you should leave your critical mind at the door, turn off your brain for an hour, and just enjoy the ride. Somehow, though, I don’t buy it. Setting low goals for yourself isn’t an excuse for making a bad movie, and if your goals have been set so low that the only thing needed to be considered successful is a weird enough atmosphere, then still being mostly yawn-worthy exhibits a particularly vigilant brand of ineptitude. Further, critics of the film aren’t likely to respond negatively out of the fact that the movie wasn’t intelligent enough for them – instead, it’s because it isn’t humorous enough. If a horror film failed to deliver any scares, would we be expected to forgive it and enjoy it anyway because it was never intended to be a five-star movie?
Dude just isn’t funny, although it tries desperately to be. Corners were cut to ensure a family friendly rating, sure, but there’s still far too little of worth here. Maybe it really was meant for an audience that would find the sight of a blind boy touching a woman’s hoo-hoos to be a high point in the world of comedy. For the rest of us, though, Dude is far from “Sweet”.