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Nobody in Hollywood wanted to know. The original budget came from one banker, the father of a friend of the director Jay Chandrasekhar. The first screenings at Sundance went well, but Harvey Weinstein eventually declined. Maybe he thought it wasn't classy enough. Fox took it on and it became a cult hit.

The first movie was proudly disreputable: five highway cops in rural Vermont are so bored they dream up pranks to play on each other and the motorists they victimise.

Some of it was pure college humour – as in the scene where Mac (Steve Lemme) and Carl (Paul Soter) have a bet on how many times Carl can get the word "meow" into his exchange with a guy they have just pulled over.

Some of it was full of freewheeling anarchy built around a genuinely bizarre character called Rodney Farva (Kevin Heffernan), a chubby motormouth patrolman who was as patriotic as he was stupid. Farva was the butt of everyone's jokes and a torment for Captain O'Hagan, their senior officer. How they got Brian Cox to play the captain is a mystery but it boosted the film's credibility. Cox returns for what would seem to have been the inevitable sequel – but wasn't.

The first drafts were written more than 10 years ago, but it took 16 years and a crowd-funding campaign that raised $US4.4 million to get the new film made. It's hard to see why. Hollywood's appetite for R-rated humour has grown considerably in the last 15 years, but those are mostly done by a tight clique of big names associated with Judd Apatow: Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Seth Rogen. None of the Broken Lizards – Chandrasekhar and Erik Stolhanske are the other two – has that kind of profile.

In the new movie, someone got the border wrong between Canada and Vermont, so a small part of Canada is actually American territory. The formerly disgraced super troopers are called back into the fold to become an advance guard of law and order in the new, hostile lands.

The French Canadian population jeers at them when not actually throwing hockey pucks at their heads. Rob Lowe does a funny turn as the local mayor, with a silly French accent.

Three Canadian mounties (Tyler Labine, Will Sasso, Hayes MacArthur) mangle the English language even further as they try to play tricks on the stupid Americans – such as enticing a grizzly bear into their headquarters. You get the picture.

It's low humour but most of it is hard to dislike – although not all of it. There's one joke here, given to Lowe, about the extinction of a First Nations tribe that should never have made it out of the script stage. There's a vast difference between naughty but nice and straight out offensive racism.

That moment is odd, because most of Broken Lizard's humour is not calculated to offend. The pranks are usually at their own expense, such as when the bear chases Farva into a portaloo and he emerges covered in … well, you can imagine.

If anything, the second movie is more anodyne than the first: there's less gratuitous nudity, and the Lizards are now turning 40. Jokes that appealed to them as 20-year-olds are not necessarily going to amuse them now. I was about to write that the sequel is more sophisticated than the first, but that would be an offence to that word.

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Paul Byrnes

Paul Byrnes was director of the Sydney Film Festival from 1989 to 1998. He has been a film critic for The Sydney Morning Herald for 20 years. In 2007, he was awarded the Geraldine Pascall prize for critical writing, the highest award in the Australian media for critics in any genre.

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