20 Years Ago
Having missed Ace Ventura: Pet Detective during its theatrical run in February/March of 1994 (some of my friends still haven’t forgiven me), I finally saw it in June on our annual family vacation to Siesta Key, Florida. I remember my brother and I perusing the shelves at the video store and, off in the distance, glowed the box for Ace Ventura. We were ecstatic. My parents, not so much. It looked dumb, juvenile, and filled with bathroom humor; in other words, perfect for teenage boys. We got our way and raced back to the condo to watch it. From the opening scenes, where Ace makes quite a production out of destroying a dog thief’s delivered package, to the crazy finale with Ace beating up the Miami Dolphins mascot, I was doubled-over with laughter. It was obvious from the outset that Jim Carrey was going to become a huge star. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective would make for a sought-after Christmas gift that year (VHS, of course) and my friends and I nearly wore it out from so many viewings.
Speaking of that Christmas, I received my annual Ebert Yearbook and my face went from smiles to confused anger as I read Roger’s one-star review of this comedy classic: “I found the movie a long, unfunny slog through an impenetrable plot. Kids might like it. Real little kids.” “Say what!? This movie is rad!,” said 1994 me. Impenetrable plot? Snowflake the Dolphins mascot is kidnapped and Ace must find him. Simple as that! How disheartening.
20 Years Later
Whereas I recognized Ebert’s points of criticism in a recent viewing of Mrs. Doubtfire, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective is still pretty damned funny and it’s surprising how many of the set pieces still work. Is there some nostalgia at play? Possibly, but taken at face value for just how strange this movie is and how balls-to-the-wall Carrey is throughout, it still stands as some kind of crazy resume piece for an incredibly gifted physical actor.
As an adult I took much more to the subtler passages of humor. That almost sounds like an oxymoron when discussing this movie. The scene during Ronald Camp’s ritzy party where Ace grabs the arm of a cello player, causing a horrible, off-key note to be played, is still classic. The send-ups to Mission:Impossible and The Crying Game, among others, are still funny. The innuendos that I didn’t totally get at the time (“your gun is digging into my hip”) are fun, especially given the absolutely preposterous notion that Einhorn and Finkle are the same person. We simply don’t get comedies this goofy any more. A bit of revisionist history seems to have a lot of people thinking this was a star vehicle for Jim Carrey, but he wasn’t even a star when this movie was released. The script is most definitely tailored to his rubber-faced expressions and mastery of physical comedy, but as just a bizarre spoof/comedy it still holds its own. That’s not to say it could have been near as watchable without Carrey on screen for every second of it.
And Carrey’s work here is still pretty legendary. His misadventures inside a rehab facility are fantastic:
As is his frenetic solution to a murder case involving one of the Dolphins personnel:
Calling Ace Ventura: Pet Detective “dumb” almost feels like a cop-out. It’s the walking, breathing, package-destroying definition of dumb – and it knows it. While Carrey was fairly new to the world in 1994, director Tom Shadyac (who would also direct Carrey in Liar Liar and Bruce Almighty) knew he had some kind of crazy talent at his disposal and just let him do his thing. It can’t be a coincidence that Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Liar Liar are Carrey’s two craziest films. Hell, he’s arguably more out of control in Liar Liar than here. You let one-man shows do their act, and Carrey’s entrance to Hollywood is still a fun ride.
Top Ten Ace Ventura: Pet Detective Quotes
- “Dan Marino should die of gonorrhea and rot in hell. Would you like a cookie, son?”
- “If I’m not back in five minutes… just wait longer.”
- “Ventuuurrraaa.” “Yes, Satan? Oh, I’m sorry, sir. You sounded like someone else.”
- “I don’t smoke. It’s a disgusting habit.”
- “Excuse me sir, but do you have a mint? Perhaps some Binaca?”
- “Hi, I’m looking for Ray Finkle…and a clean pair of shorts.”
- “Warning. Assholes are closer than they appear.”
- “Aye, Captain Stubing. How are Gopher and Doc? Permission to come aboard, sir!”
- “No, the guy with the rubber glove was surprisingly gentle.”
- “If I’d been drinking out of the toilet, I might’ve been killed.”