"I feel all itchy," Kimber Lanning whispered in the darkened theater at Arizona Center, and it wasn't the plush AMC furniture making her skin crawl.
The local record store and art gallery owner was trying her best to sit still halfway into Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd, but the deep embarrassment Lanning said she experienced for two of the movie's more seasoned comedic actors, Eugene Levy and Cheri Oteri, was manifesting itself as a skin condition.
"I feel so bad for them," said Lanning.
The diminutive entrepreneur and cultural maven stayed in her seat long enough to make it through the entire film, but just barely. Although the rest of the audience remained riveted to their seats for the outtakes rolling along with the credits, Lanning had seen enough.
The woman appeared stunned after she staggered out of the theater and sat down to reflect on the experience. A dazed look of disbelief clouded her otherwise youthful features, as if it suddenly dawned on her that the lowbrow, mainstream entertainment she's spent her entire adult life avoiding was even more hapless than she realized.
"I don't know what to think, I'm just horrified," she said.
Born in Okinawa, Lanning arrived in the Valley at the age of 4. By 19, she had opened Stinkweeds, a record store now in its third location, which provides alternative and underground music to the Arizona State University community. The store's been around for 16 years now, although that's hard to believe when you see Lanning, who looks 10 years younger than her age of 35.
Over the years, Lanning added art to the store's walls and provided a space for alternative music acts that otherwise would have skipped Phoenix on their way to Los Angeles. By 1999, the shows had become such a big part of, and burden on, her record store, Lanning opened Modified Arts, an art gallery and performance space on East Roosevelt Street in downtown Phoenix. Since then, she's become a major part of the downtown arts revival and a gadfly to the city council, which for a time was determined to bury the city's arts district under yet another sports stadium.
Lanning still seethes over that battle. She sees her role as that of a defender of what's good about the Valley, a purveyor of intelligent, urban fare, and a shield against the kind of mainstream, cookie-cutter development that has made much of Phoenix bland. In her latest venture, she's asking the owners of other locally based businesses to band together in a public relations campaign she calls Arizona Chain Reaction.
"People think this town sucks because someone else made it that way. Well, if you're eating at Chili's or shopping at Wal-Mart, you're part of the problem," she says, a moment later adding that she doesn't want to sound too anti-chain. "Chains just don't give Phoenix flavor," she says.
It's not surprising, then, that Lanning hadn't seen the Farrelly Brothers' 1994 film starring Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels as the original duo of dumb. Not that it would have helped much. Nine years later, Dumberer is a prequel that answers the burning question on nearly everyone's mind: Hey, those two morons who were kinda funny in that film nearly a decade ago, how did they first meet?
Turns out our half-wits sparked up their friendship while serving as pawns in the embezzlement scheme of a Rhode Island high school teacher (Levy) and his hootchie mama, the school's lunch lady (Oteri). Trying their best to channel Carrey and Daniels, relative unknowns Eric Christian Olsen (as Lloyd) and Derek Richardson (as Harry) spend most of the movie trying to remind us how idiotic but still lovable these characters were in the first movie. Well, they got the idiot part down.
An interminable game of "it" in a convenience store, for example, left Lanning flabbergasted, but what use was it explaining that Carrey and Daniels had pulled off a similar bit in the first film that was nearly a classic? Here, it's just wasted.
Also wasted are Levy and Oteri, who try mightily to do funny things with the truly stupid story lines they're asked to follow.
But what most bothered Lanning sort of came out of left field.
Supposedly set in 1986, Dumberer features a soundtrack of period music, as well as a character with a Mohawk haircut. Lanning, a purveyor of punk, was incensed that the genre she's so closely associated with becomes such an empty symbol onscreen. Asked why a couple of rudeboy references bothered her so much, she went off.
"It used to be the people listening to the Clash, and Elvis Costello -- those used to be the smart ones," she complained. It wasn't so long ago, she points out, that an entire cultural movement was created from the disaffection of a generation rejecting the commercial crap coming out of radios. But today's kids? The ones coming into her store, day after day?
"This is the first generation that's really bought into mass media, and they don't even know it," Lanning says. "Kids don't have a sense of adventure now. They don't question anything. There's no angst, the kind that used to propel change." The teens that came into her store 15 years ago who sifted through stacks of records looking for something new to startle or challenge them, she says, have been replaced by kids today who simply come in and ask for what they've already been conditioned to buy.
"God, I'm going to sound like a beast in print," Lanning says with a laugh, realizing that she'll come off like a geezer who just can't understand the Pokémon generation, now coming of age and guffawing at Dumberer's endless excrement references. "I guess I'm just too serious. I didn't find it funny," Lanning sighs. "It's difficult for me to sit and watch prime time TV. And that's what I feel like I just did.
"I just wish people would strive," she says. She noted that at one point in the film, director Troy Miller threw in a creative dissolve, moving from a letter "T" written on a piece of paper to the goalpost on a football field. "Why bother?" she asks. It made her think that some very talented people had contributed to Dumberer, perhaps just so they could get work on something better later on. But that thought only incensed her more. "I don't forgive that [kind of selling out]," she said. Instead, the moment made her believe that the movie was created by intelligent people who knew better, but designed it for "people that weren't that bright."
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Judging by the audience at the Arizona Center, she's probably not far off. Apparently, going by the chortles in the theater, Dumberer contained moments of comic genius. Such as the moment when Harry yells at his dim-witted friend: "I'll give you three words! I did!'"
It was an uproarious moment, at least for the fellow sitting a couple of rows back, who repeated the punch line ("I did!") and guffawed.
For Lanning, it was somewhat terrifying that the small audience kept finding so many things to laugh about.
"Not only laughs, but the repeat-the-lines-and-punch-your-buddy laughs. I mean, come on!" she said in astonishment.