February 4, 2019 Ace Ventura: Pet Detective – 25 Years In The Wild
Nostalgia is bittersweet, in that, one may have sweet memories of something, but rediscovering it can end up tainting those recollections. Let’s be honest: some media ages better than others. Dodgy rubber suits in ’50s-’60s Sci-Fi are one thing, but social attitudes are a whole other animal. The original 1960’s Star Trek had some progressive ideas for its time, though ’60s-era sexism is still a thing in its future. Eddie Murphy was on fire during the ’80s with the likes of 1983’s Trading Places and 1988’s Coming to America, but his gay jokes in his 1983 Delirious set and 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop have not stood up to the test of time.
In short, what made people laugh in the past can produce frowns in the present. Case in point, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, which was released on Friday, February 4, 1994. If Eddie Murphy was the comedy star of the ’80s, then Jim Carrey was the class clown of the ‘90s: his frenetic, rubber-faced, bonkers-with-attitude act fit the age like a glove. He was like a cartoon character that came to life, especially in films like 1994’s The Mask where he went full Looney Tunes. By contrast, Ace Ventura ran more like an adult take on Ren & Stimpy or Rocko’s Modern Life, where a wacky, ridiculous character bounces off a world of straights through pop culture references, catchphrases (“All righty then!”), and gross-out humor.
Granted, those Nicktoons did not feature a blowjob gag in the first 5-10 minutes. That would serve more as a herald for its edgier successors in 1995’s Dumb & Dumber, the South Park series, and the 1999 debut of Family Guy. Ventura only talked with his ass, whereas Eric Cartman had a full satellite telescope up his in South Park’s very first episode.
But then time comes along and alters everyone’s taste. There may be time and places for suits or jeans, but Ace Ventura has aged about as well as the titular character’s Hawaiian shirt or Courtney Cox’s (Friends series, Scream 1996) Laura Bush-esque hairstyle in the film. Sure, comedies today still contain pop culture, catchphrases, and sex jokes. However, the wacky man-child trope got driven into the ground by more lacklustre efforts from Carrey’s contemporaries.
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective scored low with critics, yet it was saved by a happy public who did find it funny and kept it afloat for a sequel and cartoon series. Compare its reception to Adam Sandler’s recent efforts like 2010’s Grown-Ups or 2011’s Jack & Jill. Critics hated both and the public was cool on them at best. People who lived through the ’90s can quote Ventura catchphrases or remember his insanity turning up to 11 in the mental hospital scene fondly. Meanwhile, Millennials and Gen Z’ers are unlikely to remember Grown-Ups and Jack & Jill into the 2020’s and beyond.
The biggest sign that Ace Ventura: Pet Detective is a product of its time comes in the form of its twist, which has been its big white elephant ever since. The reveal that Chief Lois Einhorn (Sean Young: Blade Runner 1982) is actually Ray Finkle, a former Miami Dolphin-turned-lunatic; he missed a field goal so bad that he went crazy enough to transition into a woman as part of a bonkers revenge scheme. The intention at the time, according to Carrey himself in an interview with Roger Ebert in 1994, was to push the boundaries. “When you get a script like ‘Pet Detective,’ if you try to play it real, it would have been boring as hell. Horrifying. So, I was looking to do something that was really unacceptable.”
The film was originally written by Jack Bernstein (Monk series, NCIS series) with a Chevy Chase-type comedian in mind- 1985’s Fletch meets 1998’s Dr. Dolittle, so to speak. Once Carrey came aboard, he and writer/director Tom Shadyac (Liar Liar 1997, Bruce Almighty 2003) tweaked it to fit his style of comedy. Carrey’s charm does shine through, overpowering the rest of the cast no matter how much scenery Young tries to chow down on.
The film certainly succeeded in pushing taste to the limit too, firing at the rich through millionaire suspect Ron Camp (Udo Kier: Flesh for Frankenstein 1973, Melancholia 2011) and the common through Ventura’s visit to Finkle’s hometown. The problem is that punching in all directions means punching down, which has affected Ace Ventura‘s reputation. In a 2016 episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, the character Jake Peralta described Ace Ventura as “one of my childhood favorites, and it only gets overtly transphobic at the very end, so, a win.”
So, ultimately, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective does not quite make the winner’s podium in 2019. It sits in an odd place where it is less family-friendly than The Mask, less edgy than Dumb & Dumber, and does not turn the Carrey Comedy on its head like 1996’s The Cable Guy. But those 1994 cinemagoers were not wrong to laugh at Ventura tearing apart Einhorn’s deductions by opera-singing with a sliding door. Nor were they wrong to see him cut Sergeant Aguado (John Capodice: Speed 1994, The Phantom 1996) down to size. But, like Star Trek and Delirious, its age certainly shows these 25 years later.