Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994)
Dir. by Tom Shadyac
Starring Jim Carrey, Courtney Cox, Tone Loc and Sean Young
When the Miami Dolphins football team’s mascot, a live dolphin named Snowflake, goes missing on the eve of the Super Bowl, the team hires a highly eccentric private eye and “pet detective” named Ace Ventura to locate it. In the process, he discovers a conspiracy bent on destroying the team.
This movie came out when I was in sixth grade, and for the next three years its poster hung in the entrance to the boy’s locker room at my middle school. For all I know it’s still hanging there now. I’m sure I didn’t see the actual movie until at least a year later, when it was on video, but it couldn’t have been much after that. Multiple quotes from it were quite popular among my friend group for several years afterwards.
Jim Carrey was around for quite a while before he became a household name, spending most of the 1980s bouncing around Hollywood in bit parts and supporting roles before being cast in In Living Color in 1990. However, he suddenly appeared in the American moviegoing consciousness fully formed in 1994 with not one but three huge hit films back-to-back-to-back: Ace Ventura in February, The Mask in July and Dumb and Dumber in December. This trio managed to send Carrey and his particular brand of hyperkinetic physical humor straight to the top of Hollywood’s biggest earner charts for several years afterwards, and he remained one of the biggest box office comedians for most of the 1990s.
Most of the humor in this film comes from Carrey’s extreme physical, and especially facial, gyrations, as well as a strong streak of potty humor (the most notable of which being a fairly extended gag where Carrey quite literally talks out of his own ass). It’s a far cry from what critics term “sophisticated repartee”, but I do have to admit that quite a lot of it still works for me even twenty-five years later. Pretty much everyone else in the movie is forced into the thankless task of being a series of straight men and women for Carrey to bounce his shtick off of. Very few of them seem to be quite in on the joke, however, as if Carrey had wandered onto the set of another movie and no one had the heart to tell him to get out. Still, it doesn’t matter that much, as Carrey devours every scene he’s in and goes back for seconds, and there’s not many scenes that he’s not in.
While I find a lot of Carrey’s performance to still be genuinely funny even after all this time, there are several things that definitely took me out of the movie and marked it as very much a product of its time. Most notably, the entire ending of the movie. It really doesn’t hold up. Like, at all.
In fact, it’s kind of a disaster.
For those of you who’ve never seen it, or haven’t seen it in a really long time, here’s the main problem: the film’s villain is a transgender woman. Who is implied to have transitioned specifically to enact a revenge scheme against those whom she mistakenly perceived as having wronged her. And who is publicly stripped to her underwear and outed in front of the entire police department.
Oh, and did I mention that there’s an extended five-minute sequence where Ace violently scrubs his mouth, burns his clothing and cries in the shower after he realizes that he’d kissed her? And that every single one of those cops does the same during the climax?
Yeah, I think you can see the problem here. Especially given that I’m writing this review during Pride Month in America, shortly after a significant scandal involving a particular famous British children’s book author’s horrible transphobia.
Yes, I get that the whole thing is a lengthy parody of The Crying Game, which had just come out the previous year to great acclaim and Oscar nominations. No, that doesn’t make it alright to me in a modern context. I remembered the movie well enough to know it was coming, but I was still surprised at just how much of a bad taste the whole thing left in my mouth. If this wasn’t a nostalgic movie for me (if, say, I’d have been watching it for the first time, like I did with Krull last week), I’d probably have turned it off.
If this had come out today, I don’t think there’s any way it would have been the number one movie in America for four weeks without a massive backlash against it all over social media. For all I know, there actually was protest against it at the time, but transgender rights issues weren’t in the forefront of the media in the mid-90s in the way that they frequently are today, so I’ve never heard about one.
So yeah, I enjoyed about three-quarters of my rewatch, before the movie went down in flames. I may do more Jim Carrey as I continue with this project, but I doubt I’m going to watch this one again for quite a while.
Rewatch: D+ (B- for the first 70 minutes, F for the final 15)
-Roger Ebert, in his negative review of the film, stated that “Carrey plays Ace as if he’s being clocked on an Energy-O-Meter, and paid by the calories expended.” I can’t really say that he’s wrong.
-In addition to the transphobia, there’s also quite a bit of homophobic and ableist humor, especially at the expense of the mentally ill. Again, par for the course for 90s comedies, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
-A while back I remember there being an announcement of a planned remake of Ace Ventura. I really hope it’s a new concept or a passing-the-torch movie and not a straight-up remake of this plot.