Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994)

reviewed by
Scott Renshaw

                         ACE VENTURA, PET DETECTIVE
                       A film review by Scott Renshaw
                        Copyright 1994 Scott Renshaw

Starring: Jim Carrey, Courteney Cox, Sean Young, Udo Kier, Dan Marino. Screenplay: Jack Bernstein, Tom Shadyac & Jim Carrey. Director: Tom Shadyac.

As many individual elements as I might analyze with any given film, my gut reaction almost always comes down to one crucial issue: did the film do what it was trying to do? If it was a thriller, did it keep me in suspense? If it was a romance, did I respond emotionally? And if it was a comedy, did I laugh? Of all the film types, comedy is perhaps the most difficult to analyze; either it works, or it doesn't. Which brings me to this confession: I laughed at ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE. God help me, I laughed quite a bit. Comedian Jim Carrey's unique persona won me over in spite of a great deal of stupidity and some sluggish pacing.

Jim Carrey is Ace Ventura, a private eye who specializes in finding lost pets. As the only one there is at what he does, it is Ace who gets the call for the biggest case of his career: finding the Miami Dolphins' kidnapped mascot, Snowflake. With the help of Dolphins publicist Melissa Robinson (Courteney Cox), Ace begins investigating suspects like wealthy marine life collector Ron Camp (Udo Kier), eventually turning his focus towards someone connected to the Dolphins organization. In his way stands the Miami police, headed by combative Lt. Lois Einhorn (Sean Young), as Ace tries to crack the case before the Super Bowl.

Vanity projects are a dime a dozen these days, but they all apply a very similar logic, namely that if you let the star do what he or she does best, and if that star's audience is large enough, you'll have a success. I'm not sure whether the latter condition is true of Carrey, but it is true that he's allowed to do what he does best. It has been a long time since I've seen a physical comedian who looks as comfortable on screen as Carrey. His elastic features recall early Jerry Lewis, while his spindly frame and geeky self- confidence show traces of Pee-Wee Herman. When the comedy is purely physical, the laughs are really big. The opening sequence features Ace disguised as a parcel deliveryman gleefully shattering the contents of his package to simulate a shipping mishap. My favorite bit involved Ace sneaking out of a bathroom window to snoop around Camp's mansion, taking an elaborate and artificially treacherous route towards a door he could have walked to in seconds. ACE VENTURA boasts some of the most amusing slapstick in recent years this side of the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker films.

It's considerably more erratic in its success when it comes to verbal gags. No scatological subject goes unexamined in ACE VENTURA; Carrey even utilizes his own posterior as a ventriloquist's dummy. In fact, ACE VENTURA is almost self-congratulatory in its political incorrectness, using homophobia and sexism as punch lines. The film drags between visual set pieces, rescued only by Carrey's goofy delivery. Part of the problem is that screenwriters Carrey, Tom Shadyac and Jack Bernstein frequently seem unclear as to when enough is enough. Ace's trademark mocking cackle, borrowed from Carrey's Fire Marshall Bill character from "In Living Color," is funny once but not three times. A more telling example involves the theme song from THE CRYING GAME, used perfectly once but then used again so that it just seems derivative. Finally, one piece of advice for filmmakers: if you must use Dan Marino for a cameo, please don't give him too many lines. An Isotoner glove commercial is about all I can take.

There would seem to be little point to commenting on the supporting players in ACE VENTURA, since for all practical purposes they serve as scenery with SAG cards. However, I would be remiss in not mentioning Sean Young, who appears to have resigned herself to doing parodies of her reputation as a real-life psycho. She has a fun, over-the-top part much like her role in FATAL INSTINCT, but wisely she avoids trying to steal scenes from Carrey. It just wouldn't work. In ACE VENTURA, Jim Carrey establishes himself as a first-rate screen clown, one I hope to see again.

     On the Renshaw scale of 0 to 10 missing pets:  6.
Scott Renshaw
Stanford University
Office of the General Counsel

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