ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE (1994)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 26 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Off-Color Humor and some Nudity

Directed by: Tom Shadyac

Written by: Jack Bernstein, Tom Shadyac & Jim Carrey

Starring: Jim Carrey, Courtney Cox, Sean Young, Tone Loc, Dan Marino, John Capodice, Noble Willingham, Troy Evans, Raynor Scheine & Udo Kier

Jim Carrey may not be nearly as big now as he once was, but this hyperactive performer owned the box office during the 90s. His first box office hit was ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE and this film didn’t exactly fare well with critics. However, it banked with audiences and has a rather large fanbase. I loved both ACE VENTURA movies when I was a kid, so I decided to revisit them to see how they held up over the past two decades. Though ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE has a decent amount of laughs and surprisingly crafts a clever animal-centric mystery, this comedy is a bit scattershot. Carrey fans and nostalgic viewers will likely get enjoyment out of it, but this film hasn’t exactly aged well.

Ace Ventura (Jim Carrey) is a pet detective who specializes in rescuing kidnapped animals. After the Miami Dolphins bottlenose mascot Snowflake is stolen from its tank, Ace Ventura is hired by team publicist Melissa Robinson (Courtney Cox). While on the case, Ace finds himself beset by strange clues and hindered by stubborn Lieutenant Lois Einhorn (Sean Young). As the mystery gets weirder, Ace soon discovers that the kidnapping might be the beginning of a more sinister plot and there may be lives on the line. This hyperactive pet detective must rescue Snowflake before it’s too late…and also hopefully not get killed in the process.

In many ways, ACE VENTURA is film of its time. This movie mostly shows its age through Jim Carrey’s zany performance as the titular pet detective. This project was filmed when Jim Carrey was relatively unknown. The biggest things on his resume were the sketch show IN LIVING COLOR and horror-comedy ONCE BITTEN. Carrey hadn’t quite honed in on his unique brand of over-the-top humor. To say that his performance is manic would be putting it mildly. He’s practically bouncing off the walls of the sets and channels a seemingly uncontrollable urge to make the viewer laugh at all costs. Sometimes, his hyperactive mannerisms work. Other times, he’s trying way too hard to get a chuckle (e.g. making his ass talk, referencing a quick TV show or movie, etc.).

Carrey is the main star here and the supporting cast members/characters are almost inconsequential. Courtney Cox plays a love-interest and semi-sidekick, but there are chunks of the story where the viewer almost completely forgets about her character’s existence. The same can be said of Tone Loc as Ace’s police officer friend, because he has about five minutes of screen time and pretty much serves as a plot device. Meanwhile, Sean Young is memorable for many reasons as the frustrated lieutenant who hates Ace with every fiber of her being. You will definitely not forget her character and a few of her scenes were really raunchy for the time…especially in a PG-13 movie.

PET DETECTIVE’s funniest bits come in a shark tank sequence and a montage of Ace investigating a series of rings. Most surprisingly, ACE VENTURA works a bit better as a pet-oriented mystery than it does a ridiculous comedy. There are unexpected twists and moments of genuinely clever writing that slap the viewer upside the head. A certain element of the plot sparked controversy upon the film’s release and is sure to offend certain sensitive viewers in our current political climate, but I recommend looking at this “offensive” element as a crude joke from an early-90s atmosphere (when times were different). Also, it’s worth noting that Carrey purposely wanted this plot development to be completely wacky to the point where nobody would take it seriously at all.

Even though ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE was the film that launched Jim Carrey into superstardom, this first “pet dick” flick isn’t one of his best films and I’d say that it isn’t even the best film in the short-lived ACE VENTURA franchise. There are enough chuckles and pieces of smart writing to combat the film’s flat moments and Carrey’s early “trying too hard” obnoxiousness. If you enjoy Jim Carrey, then you’re bound to find (at the very least, mild) entertainment in ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE. If you find Jim Carrey to be annoying, this film likely won’t do much for you.

Grade: B-

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