ACE VENTURA PET DETECTIVE
US, 1994, 86 minutes, Colour.
Jim Carrey, Courteney Cox, Sean Young, Tone Loc, Dan Marino, Noble Willingham, Troy Evans, Udo Keir.
Directed by Tom Shadyac.
At the time of its release, this film had huge box office, audiences laughing all around the world. However, it did not appeal to a great many critics, not enthralled by the antics of Jim Carrey.
Up to this time, Carrey had appeared in small roles in a range of films, many of them serious. But he also appeared on television, in the series Living Color, and had made a great impression.
Gambling on his comic talent, producers made this film and Carrey’s career was more than off and running, followed soon after this by The Mask, Dumb and Dumber, Batman, another Ace Ventura Detective film and then going more and more upmarket with such comedies as Liar, Liar and Bruce Almighty, both directed by this film’s director Tom Shadyac.
In the aftermath of this initial success, it is a good question to ask where Carrey’s talent lies and what is his appeal. First and foremost, he is often a clown, not to be interpreted as a real-life person, but someone whose personality is exaggerated, whose mannerisms are excessive and appealing for laughter, someone whose appearance is also exaggerated as well as his manner of speaking. Carrey is noted for his ability for facial contortions, mimicry in different voices, disguises, eyebrow raising, various memory tics, his mobile body.
One of the features of Ace Ventura is that he is certainly not dumb nor dumber. This is clear as the comedy, that despite all his mannerisms and pratfalls, the physical comedy, the touch of the leering, the innuendo and the not exactly innuendo, his character is intellectually smart, knowledgeable, and, in fact, his very effective as detective.
Because he is a detective, the screenplay has many opportunities for him to interact with animals, liking them, disliking them, fighting them, rescuing them, the opening sequence making us misjudge him as he carries on with a tough guy and steals his dog, which was his mission to restore it to its rightful owner. There is also a lot of business with pratfalls, the bashing of his car and his continuing to drive it, battered, looking out the windows.
He is given a commission to find a dolphin, the mascot of the Miami baseball team. His liaison is with the publicity agent, played effectively as straight woman to Carrey’s antics by Courteney Cox just as she was beginning her long presence in Friends. By contrast there is Sean Young as the police chief – with quite some secrets of her own, and turning out to be not only the villain but a man!.
There are quite a number of popular character actors, including guest spot by Udo Keir as a millionaire who is more than challenged at his party by Ace Ventura. There are quite a number of baseball players playing themselves, including Champion Dan Marino who becomes part of the plot, the subject of retaliation by the villain for a spoilt kick in a championship moment and the losing of the pennant. He is kidnapped, rescued, but involved in all the shenanigans.
It is easy to see in retrospect why audiences warmed to him, and it was this kind of persona that he developed for over 20 years while, at the same time, he did make attempts to act in more serious films.
It might be said that Ace Ventura a was a cinema phenomenon.