'I Love You Phillip Morris' but we hate you Ace Ventura: PopWatch Rewind looks back on Jim Carrey's career

ace-ventura-posterIn I Love You Phillip Morris, Jim Carrey plays a devout Christian police officer who discovers his true calling as a high-living gay man, a prison-escaping con artist, and the obsessed paramour of Ewan McGregor. It’s an unhinged performance… but Carrey has been  specializing in unhinged, semi-psychotic characters for almost two decades now. (Remember Bob Jackson, Karate Instructor?) We decided to honor (and deconstruct) the star by looking back at the role that made him famous. Return with us, readers, to a time before the $20 million paycheck, before the zeitgeist-defining pratfalls, before the “serious” roles that worked (The Truman Show, Eternal Sunshine of  the Spotless Mind) and the ones that didn’t (The Majestic, The  Number 23.) And please, help us to ponder an unthinkable question: Just  how freakin’ bad is Ace Ventura: Pet Detective?

Keith Staskiewicz: Alrighty then!

Darren Franich: This was Jim Carrey’s first big hit, the movie that catapulted him to superstardom and set him up for a ridiculously big year – first Ace Ventura, then The Mask, then Dumb & Dumber — and very shortly, he was breaking all salary records by earning $20 million per movie. And yet, his kingdom was built on a throne of lies! Because, man, oh man, Ace Ventura is terrible. I remember thinking this movie was the funniest thing ever when it came out. Now, I’m at a loss to find any redeeming quality whatsoever.

KS: Look, I’m a victim of nostalgia as much as anyone else. I name The Goonies as my favorite movie of all time, and I’ve cried when Optimus Prime dies in the animated Transformers movie, but I totally agree, this is a genuinely terrible film that manages to be grating and boring all at once like a teacher simultaneously giving a history lecture and dragging their nails on the chalkboard. And I’m fully prepared to be called Prof. Snobby Snooterson of the Jean-Luc Godard Academy of Elite Pretentiousness, but there it is.

Aaaaaaaaaah, zebenyaaaaaaaa!

DF: This is the first time I’ve seen the movie in at least eight years, and I’m wondering if a bit part of my visceral reaction just has to do with not being a kid anymore. When I was young watching Ace Ventura, I thought he was a hilarious character. Now, all I see is a profound jackass.

KS: But you can’t even pretend it’s profound, like Jackass.

DF: At the same time, it’s weird watching this movie when it’s now 16 years old, because I feel like I can see all kinds of terrible influences it had on comedy. Ace Ventura is simultaneously a buffoon, a sort of lovable rebel figure, and also basically a super-genius. He’s nominally an outcast, but every scene of the movie comes down to him successfully one-upping everyone. It feels to me like almost every movie ever made starring an SNL actor post-‘95: Mr. Deeds, Taxi, Superstar. The only redeeming quality of the movie is that Carrey really does seem legitimately unhinged. He completely oversells everything. It’s not really funny, but it’s all the energy that would actually BE funny in other movies.

…damn near killed 'em!

KS: Unhinged is a good word. For me, I was so annoyed by Ace that I ended up formulating an entirely different reading of the movie that made him more understandable, if not tolerable. In it, Ace Ventura is a tragic character, clearly unable to maintain any sort of normalized human interaction at all. He isn’t so much socially inept as he is socially catastrophic. Just look at any conversation in the movie. Nearly everyone else is entirely reasonable, calm, and collected, while he just makes noises and screams in their faces. The party scene is particularly revealing, in that it shows just how completely unable to be a part of human society he is, which is most likely why he has retreated into the company of animals, who behave much in the same way as he does. Another offshoot of this reading is that almost all of the film actually takes place in his mind, the only real events being those in the mental hospital when he “pretends” to be totally insane. When you think about it, his behavior then is almost identical to any other point in the movie, so maybe that’s who he really is: insane, locked up, and dreaming that he is out playing with animals and saving the day and sleeping with Courteney Cox,  who in this reality, is actually his sister.

"Oh, I know. The new Franzen did nothing for me, either."

DF:  I love that reading of the film, if only because it’s more intelligent and well-thought-out than anything else that happens in the movie.

KS: Seriously, though, I only came up with it as my own form of mental escape.

DF: But at least it kind of makes sense. Whereas the actual plot of the movie is nonsense. Except no, because it’s actually a bizarrely complex plot: A disgraced football player plots vengeance, has a near-complete sex-change operation, adopts the identity of a dead hiker, BECOMES THE CHIEF OF POLICE, and then waits and hopes that the Dolphins will actually go to the Super Bowl. I really want to say that Jim Carrey rises above all of this, but in a weird way, this movie feels like the sort of Love Guru-ish travesty that usually happens LATER in a star’s career, when they insist that every scene is based around them doing something funny with their voice.

Dan Marino's film career: 'Ace Ventura,' 'Little Nicky,' 'Holy Man,' and 'Bad Boys 2.' Flag! Unnecessary Badness!

KS: The Mask at least harnessed Jim Carrey’s manic energy into something that makes sense. Rather than being an entirely insufferable human being, he plays a mild-mannered guy who becomes a wacky and crazy only when he has on the mask. It’s also a lot more lighthearted and fun, like a Tex Avery or Chuck Jones cartoon. Whereas this is more equivalent to a 90-minute video of a screeching cat trapped in a drainpipe. There are also nearly zero jokes in the film. Anything that could be construed as laughs comes solely from Carrey’s reading of the material, whether because it’s with a memorable cadence like “Ree-hee-hee-hee-heeallly” or because it’s coming via his anus. I definitely give Carrey points in that he was doing something that no one else was at that point in time: absolute, unabashed, full-tilt physical comedy.  The early ’90s was really all about deadpan, sardonic Janeane Garofalo types. So I can understand how the second coming of Jerry Lewis could be taken as a refreshing change of pace, but I must say that it really is nice to see the almost meteoric rise in quality of Carrey’s work over the following five years.

DF: Well, I guess that’s the most interesting thing to me: You’ve got The Mask and Dumb & Dumber also in 1994, but then you have Batman Forever and Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls in 1995, both terrible and frankly terrible FOR Jim Carrey. But then, bam, you’ve got The Cable Guy, Liar Liar, and The Truman Show, which almost feel like the three best versions of Carrey: Legitimately Unhinged, Lovably Spastic, and (weirdly) Everyman.

KS: And then Man on the Moon, which managed both to validate him as a great actor, and retroactively validate his previous work by plugging him into a certain comic tradition. And I’m not convinced of the terribleness of his Riddler. In fact, I kind of like it.

Sean Young, shown here playing the role of "The Audience."

DF: It seems even crazier now that he was cast in The Truman Show. Like, in Truman, he’s the normal person in an extremely crazy world. It’s a perfect flip of the usual Carrey equation. Do you think it’s because Carrey is the rare physical comedian who’s also pretty handsome? I mean, no offense to Jerry Lewis, but Carrey looks way more like a Dean Martin.

KS: Although, Chris Farley was always pretty sexy. One thing I was pondering was just how many of his movies are based on single-sentence high concepts. Actually, not even single sentences, just phrases are enough. “Detective for pets,” “Man with an id mask,” “Man who can’t lie,” “Man who is God,” “Man who says yes to everything,” “Man who falls in love with a girl and then decides to go for an experimental treatment that erases her from his memory, but then decides against it and has to fight his own past and mind while in a dream-state only to find that, while he did eliminate her, they are destined to repeat their love ad infinitum in a tragicomic closed loop.” You know, that kind of stuff.

Note: Freeze-framing randomly with the sound off is the perfect method of viewing 'Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.'

DF: You’re right — he does seem like a star uniquely well-built for the age of High-Concept comedy, which might explain why he’s somewhat fallen out of the limelight in this Apatow-dominant half-decade. Did you ever see A Christmas Carol? I seem to recall that it got good reviews, which kind of fascinates me, since I believe Carrey played 57 roles in the movie.

KS: I haven’t, because Robert Zemeckis’ dead-eyed computer muppets threaten to consume my soul. One last observation: In 1994, there was Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Then in 1999, there was Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo. That’s a weirdly specific movie-title formula to repeat: Card-name Surname: Wacky Profession. Will we be seeing something along the lines of Trey Fingbottom: Bologna Repairman or Jack Garber: Monkey Barber soon?

NEXT  WEEK: Boxing movies come in two flavors: awesome, and really awesome. The Fighter certainly looks like it could be good: It’s the true-life story of a struggling boxer, complete with lots of Oscar-ready family drama. But will it come close to the magnificence of Rocky IV, a mostly true-life story in which Sylvester Stallone tries to end the Cold War single-handedly by defeating Dolph Lundgren in the boxing ring? We’ll find out  next Friday.

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Comments (146 total) Add your comment
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  • Shurly

    I loved Ace Ventura, it was really funny !!

    • Jeff M.

      Ace was good but Lair,Lair was and will always be his best movie ever

      • Jerry

        Lair, Lair? :)

      • lipreader

        I can’t fine “Lair,Lair” anywhere. Dumb and Dumber?…present and accounted for.

      • Beepela

        Lair, Lair is my favorite movie! Which lair will he choose?! I was in suspense the entire time.

      • Seddie is meant to be

        Ace Ventura is hilarious and needs to come back to the big screen with Jerry Trainor as the new Ace

      • Tom

        Lira Lira is my favorite movie! It’s where he tries to exchange all of his Italian currency in 24 hours before changes to Euros.

      • Love Ace

        I miss the old Jim Carrey!!! :( Even his old serious movies were amazing.

      • Chris

        A lot of people dislike it, but I thought Rail! Rail! had a lot of heart. Carrey has a manic energy as an down on his luck, Chinese laborer who finds a magical pick, allowing him to complete the transcontinental railroad, so he can see his wife again.

      • Lois Einhorn

        Ok, can’t anyone spell on this log, or is this just a bunch of dyslexics typing up nonsense? It’s not “Lair, Lair” (it ain’t a bear movie) nor is it “Lira, Lira” (come-on, pizano!). Just “LIAR, LIAR”. And yes, it was awesome!

      • ha!

        wow…

      • Nat

        Hats off to all the puns here, but the cherry on top was Lois’ coment. Bwahaha

      • Joe

        Liar Liar was good until the sappy ending. I hate when comedies become sappy at the end (e.g., every Adam Sandler movie ever made!).

    • Katie

      I agree that Ace Ventura was really funny, and still is in many respects.

      Remember that back then, we had never seen Jim Carrey, except for his Fire Marshall Bill routine on ILC. Movie comedy was much tamer and no one expected this kind of stupidity and raunchiness. Then 90s Hollywood churned out comedies that were nothing but stupidity until…(when was White Chicks released?). Back then, this was refreshing and shocking. THAT’s why we loved it, and why it will always have a place in my heart.

      • Saphron

        Well said, Katie.

      • Nat

        I agree with what you’re saying…comedy tastes have changed. Back then a more slapstick, physical style of humour was really popular. The late, great Leslie Nielsen is another example of this era. Now comedy is more ironic or mixed with drama….physical comedy will make a come back at some point. Its part of the reason I enjoyed The Hangover so much actually…..I was getting tired of the Apatow funny/sad, man-child type movies.

      • Peter

        I find Nat’s comment odd. The Hangover is inseparable from the Apatow films in my mind.

  • Liz

    I hate Jim Carrey when he is trying to be funny. I must say that I can’t even picture him in a more serious role because I think his “comedy” is so grating.

    • tracy bluth

      Go watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind RIGHT NOW.

      • Tank Girl

        Or The Truman Show. Carrey played that role pretty straight.

    • paula

      Please watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

    • Ambee

      I much, much prefer Eternal Sunshine in terms of content. It’s just so good. I think about it all the time.

  • a person

    I dont remember ever seeing ace ventura, but my favorite Jim Carry movies are The Grinch, the Truman Show (watched it in HS World History and thought it was amazing till i had to write a paper on it!) but Hated him in A Series of Unfortunate Events (ruined a great book series from my childhood-he was not a good Count Olaf which just made it terrible!

    • Briana

      Don’t get me started on A Series of Unfortunate Events.

  • tracy bluth

    Confession: despite my extreme love for Jim Carrey, I have never seen Ace Ventura. However, I have to say that even in his worst films Carrey is still completely magnetic. “Yes Man”, as a whole, was quite boring, but there was a certain spark between him and Zooey that makes me hope they will reunite with a better script. It still baffles me that he wasn’t Oscar nominated for Truman, Man on the Moon, or Eternal Sunshine.

    • Brittany S. Pierce

      I agree with you. Loved Jim Carrey in those movies and he DEFINITELY should’ve been nominated for an Oscar in Eternal Sunshine.. sadly I think after that he stopped caring about doing Drama because of the snubs (he went into Yes Man, Fun with Dick and Jane, etc).
      Ace Ventura was very funny back then, but humor has changed I think, and it’s not funny now. Doesn’t mean it’s embarrassing; still amazing what he was able to do with his face!

    • Nadine

      So agree, especially re: his performance for Man on the Moon. It was spectacular.

  • Sparky

    “I haven’t, because Robert Zemeckis’ dead-eyed computer muppets threaten to consume my soul.”

    That’s why I didn’t see it either. >.>

    This is fabulous.<3

  • Tom

    Ace Ventura is funny.

    The Truman Show is a snooze…

    • Joe

      Lol well I think it’s safe to say most of us are glad you aren’t reviewing movies professionally.

  • Anne

    Jack Garber: Monkey Barber needs to happen. I would watch this movie.

    • tracy bluth

      Kevin James is probably plotting for this to be his next flick (can’t believe you guys forget the terrible Paul Blart: Mall Cop!)

      • Nuke

        There’s a card named Paul?

      • tracy bluth

        Whoops…I missed the “card” part. That just makes the titles even worse.

  • Jay

    “Excuse me….. I would like to ASS you a few questions”

  • Liz

    The “single” sentence about Eternal Sunshine is really annoying, it’s not one sentence or phrase, just bad punctuation. And Keith is clearly wrong on this point but Darren’s response is “your right”? I just seems so stupid.

    • Joey

      I’m pretty sure that was a joke….

    • Joe

      Yeah obviously a joke

    • Mole

      The unwieldiness of the sentence was meant to be a joke.

  • Snowflake

    You guys are crazy! Ace Ventura is a comedy classic. Easily one of Carrey’s best roles.

  • tripnip28

    Ace Ventura is still Funny! it’s so stupid it’s funny, and that’s exactly what it was trying to be.

    It wasn’t trying to win oscars or anything, it was just trying to be a stupid humor movie….and it was just that!

    “you got any more gum ace?”….”frankly that’s none of your damn business dan”………….STILL FUNNY!

    • Matt1

      Totally Agree!
      Seriously, these 2 guys are pretentious azzholes!
      Ace Ventura was SUPPOSED to be stupid humor that makes you laugh and guess what… I laughed my azz off when I was 14 and I still laugh my azz off now that I’m 30 when I watch it.
      I judge if I like a movie based on if it acheived what it set out to accomplish. Action movies and thrillers are supposed to be exciting, Dramas are supposed to involve you in the characters and their situations, and COMEDIES ARE SUPPOSED TO MAKE YOU LAUGH!!
      So yes, I think Ace Ventura is awesome, and these 2 guys are pricks.

      • Dani

        The problem with these two writers doing these types of articles or the PopWatch Rewinds is that they’re WAY TOO YOUNG to grasp the cultural context of what they’re talking about.
        They were babies when this stuff came out. Of course it looks extra-stupid today. But at the time Ace Venura was released, it was funny for the age group it was intended for (again, NOT these guys) and filled a niche of entertainment that was not nearly as overwhelming as it is today.

      • @Dani

        Does that mean only 80 year-olds can talk about Casablanca?

      • Saphron

        Yes to everything starting with tripnip28, and to @Dani…yeah, probably!

        Honestly, the scene where Ace jumps in the empty tank and just riffs is STILL pee-your-pants funny. A lot of comedies these days…(ugh, won’t Apatow go away???) are just not good enough. And how are there “no jokes” in the movie? Do they know what a joke is? Sheesh. “What’s the password?” “New England Clam Chowder.” “…..the red or the white?” Come on, EW!

    • angeler

      seriously! Ace Ventura is *supposed* to be a “dumb funny” kind of movie. We’re not talking Sophie’s Choice here, sheesh. It’s so totally quotable. Think Snowflake. “DO YOU HAVE A DORSAL FIN??”

  • e4ia

    The first Ace Ventura was a pretty funny movie. But Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls is one of the funniest movie going experiences that I have ever had. I remember being doubled-over in the movie theater laughing so hard mant times when it came out, especially the Rhino scene.

    • Terry

      Yeah, I’ve never seen the first one, but the rhino scene in the second one. Hilarious and brilliant.

      • Don

        I first saw “When Nature Calls” as an inflight movie. I was sitting in business class with the headphones on and tears running down my face from laughter during the rhino scene

      • Nat

        The second I think still holds up. The slinky, Carrey shoving asparagus in his mouth at the party, the rhino, and Ace’s endless needling of his partner were all great. Sometimes you just want to watch ridiculous in-your-face comedy, and Carrey was the king of that.

    • Karlover

      Excuse me…..*whisper* Your balls are showing.

    • RaivynSkye

      Absolutely. After Dumb and Dumber I swore off Jim Carrey. Then I started dating my now husband and he brought over the VHS (lol) of When Nature Calls. 14 years later it is still in my top 3 comedies for when I have a bad day, right along with Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Major Payne. :D

  • Jill

    I thought Ace Ventura was funny too. Over the top sometimes but still gives me laughs.

    Laces out!!!! Die, Dan, die!!!!

    • tvgirl48

      That’s why I love it still, because both of those movies are over-the-top stupidity and ridiculousness. I loved them when I was a kid, but now I can still laugh at them as dumb, silly movies. Call it nostalgia, but I enjoy it for what it is, nothing more.

      • tvgirl48

        Oh, and now I actually understand all the Crying Game references. Lol, so dirty.

  • Peter Vee

    My (then) kid brother and his friends loved Ace Ventura when it came out; of course, they were all ten years old at the time. They insisted on watching it repeatedly, which caused me to despise Carrey for a couple of years. The Truman Show changed my mind, but I remember thinking, how can this be the same actor? I suppose that’s a weird sort of compliment.

  • Rob

    Totally disagree. This movie is hilarious and insanely quotable. Poor choice for movies to hate on.

    • Dinjab

      I hate on your mom. There’s no such thing as “hating on”. It’s something some gangsta-rapper invented that sheep like you can’t have a conversation without dropping in there. Knock it off, Rob.

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