Should I Watch..? 'Ace Ventura: Pet Detective'
What's the big deal?
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective is a comedy film released in 1994 and is widely credited with making a star out of its leading man Jim Carrey alongside another 1994 film, The Mask. The film concerns an unusual investigator who deals with animal-related cases called upon by the Miami Dolphins football team after their mascot goes missing. The film also stars Courtney Cox, Sean Young, Tone Loc and then-Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino. Released to a fairly muted reception from critics, the film was a surprise hit at the box office with global returns of over $107 million which led to a sequel When Nature Calls as well as an animated TV show and direct-to-video prequel. These days, the film is often highlighted as an example of Hollywood's poor treatment of transgender people in both how the trans role is portrayed and the reaction of other characters.
What's it about?
Based in Miami, eccentric goofball Ace Ventura works as the city's only pet detective specialising in retrieving lost animals in the area. However, things aren't going well for him - ostracised by the local police led by Lt. Lois Einhorn and behind on his rent, Ace gets the call of a lifetime when Snowflake - the bottlenose dolphin mascot of the Miami Dolphins - is kidnapped just two weeks before the Fins are due to play in the Super Bowl. Dolphins' publicist Melissa Robinson hires Ace to find their missing mascot but isn't sure she's made the right choice after she sees his unorthodox approach.
During the course of his investigation, Ace begins to realise that it may be the actions of a former player for the team but tracking them down proves difficult. And after the team's quarterback Dan Marino is also kidnapped, Ace fears that time is running out. With Einhorn also on the case and constantly butting heads with him, can Ace crack the case, recover poor Snowflake and manage to make this month's rent?
Lt. Lois Einhorn
Jack Bernstein, Tom Shadyac & Jim Carrey*
Release Date (UK)
29th April, 1994
Razzie Award Nomination
Worst New Star (Carrey)
What's to like?
Like a lot of Carrey's early movies, the film seems to revolve around how many faces he can pull before you start getting irritated. Unlike The Mask which gave him carte blanche to go overboard, this film instead relies on Ace being the sort of maladjusted freak you only see in films like this. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective is as dumb a comedy as you will find anywhere, full of the sort of gross-out humour and wacky behaviour you'd expect. If that's exactly what floats your boat then this will probably up your street.
It can't be easy trying to occupy the screen when Carrey spins around like a Tasmanian devil on LSD but both Young and Cox give decent enough performances. In short, this is a fairly sunny slice of comic fluff with an actor working very hard to extract as much laughter as he can from the film. The comedy is definitely suited more to younger viewers than mature - in fact, Carrey seems to be the only actor playing the film for laughs but he burns at the centre of the film like an actual star. If he was intending this to launch his career, it's mission accomplished.
- Ventura's voice and vocal mannerisms stemmed from his stand-up routine with the famous "All righty then" being a catchphrase of one of his characters. When Carrey added it into the script, he kept using the voice throughout.
- Despite working on the premise for a number of years, Carrey offered the role of Ace to Rick Moranis who turned it down. The character was originally intended to be a bumbling parody of Sherlock Holmes until Bernstein was inspired by a sketch by David Letterman about pet owners.
- Of course, the Dolphins only reached the Super Bowl with Marino just once in 1984's Super Bowl 19. The Dolphins lost 38-16 to Joe Montana's San Francisco 49's and haven't been back to the big game since, mascot or no mascot.
What's not to like?
If you're looking for subtlety then forget it because Ace Ventura: Pet Detective is as subtle as a shotgun blast to the face. Yes, Carrey's goofy antics last for the entire running time so be prepared otherwise he'll get very annoying very quickly. What's almost unforgivable is that although the film should be perfect family film fodder, it isn't because the humour does get very near-the-knuckle at times. The various homophobic gags and mockery of a trans character feels very awkward these days and the laughs suddenly dry up when you realise the cruel inanity of it all.
Although the rubber-faced routine is near-identical, Carrey's performance in The Mask is more entertaining and bearable than it is shown here. When he's not in green and wearing a yellow zoot suit, Carrey's Stanley Ipkiss is a much more normal person than Ace Ventura could ever be. There is respite to be found in The Mask whereas Ace Ventura: Pet Detective is a full-scale assault on the eyes, ears and brain. It has its moments but generally, I found it about as funny as a trip to a funeral parlour.
Should I watch it?
There will be some viewers who will enjoy the film, I've no doubt. But I cannot ignore the fact that Ace Ventura: Pet Detective is an immature film designed for immature audiences. It could and perhaps should have been a family film classic but with its stupid ending and unnecessary cruelty, there is no way I can recommend this for a family audience. Which begs the question, if it's not for kids then what sort of adults did they expect would go and watch this?
Great For: fans of the Dolphins (yep, that's me), kooky zoologists, Carrey's career
Not So Great For: parents of hyperactive children, grown-ups, inquisitive children with too many questions
What else should I watch?
You want a Jim Carrey film then you only really have two choices. The Mask remains his best comedy although the equally goofy Liar Liar isn't far behind. But personally, I think Carrey can be a damn fine actor when he puts his mind to it such as his barn-storming appearance in The Truman Show, his best film to date. As a man unknowingly growing up on a TV show in front of the world, Carrey gives easily his best performance of his career to date as a man frustrated with the world as it seems to fight against his desire to explore and discover. Together with an electric concept and wonderful supporting cast, it's my go-to film whenever I'm in the mood for Carrey.
Sports movies aren't usually hailed for their greatness as the spontaneous and unpredictable nature of live sport is missing from an obviously scripted outcome. American Football features in everything from serious dramas like Any Given Sunday and Draft Day, historical rom-com Leatherheads, Burt Reynolds comedy The Longest Yard and its 2005 remake and even as the setting for action film The Last Boy Scout. If only there was a film that had Miami winning a Super Bowl for once... no, that's too fantastical.
© 2018 Benjamin Cox