Ace Ventura Pet Detective Reappraised.Posted:
Warning: This article contains no references to diving. Except this one and the other one that follows about it not being about diving.
I know you, you’re thinking ‘when will that Mark Lamarr look-alike stop going on about diving and write a blog post reappraising the mid 90’s Jim Carrey comedy vehicle Ace Ventura: Pet Detective?’ Well my learned friend, that time is now.
Some history: I love(ed) Ace Ventura. It emerged in 1994 when I was 16 years old. I believe I first saw it in a hotel near Ayers Rock on a family holiday however it was subsequent viewings, specifically with my mates, that really cemented my view that this movie was indisputable comedy gold. It was followed in 95 by a vastly inferior sequel Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls which does contain one scene where Ace is ‘born’ through the anus of a fake latex Rhino in front of a horrified family causing one of my friends to laugh so hard that he was violently, physically, sick.
I found myself thinking about the movie recently and specifically about the great many jokes made at the expense of gender re-assignment surgery. I wondered how I would feel about the movie now so decided to re-watch it and find out.
The film is on youtube (which meant I didn’t need to dig my VCR out of the attic) so I settled down. For those who haven’t seen it- spoiler alert- the plot of the movie is as follows: The mascot of the Miami Dolphins- a real dolphin called Snowflake which is kept in captivity thereby ticking another one of the politically incorrect boxes- is stolen just before the big final and Ace Ventura, pet detective, is hired to find it. Whilst checking Snowflake’s tank he discovers a clue that leads him to believe that the suspect is a former Miami Dolphins player. Through a series of zany escapades it eventually transpires that the culprit is the current chief of police, Lois Einhorn. She is in fact a former male player called Ray Finkle who missed an important field goal thereby losing the final. This caused him to hold a grudge against the Dolphins and specifically the player (real life American football star Dan Marino) who held the ball for him to kick which eventually drives him insane. He then has a sex change and hatches a plot to kidnap Snowflake and Dan Marino with the ultimate goal being that the Dolphins lose again and she’ll murder Snowflake and Marino. Got all that? Good.
Firstly I found myself instantly quoting along with the dialogue, which prompted me to wonder exactly how many times I’d seen this movie. Secondly I was surprised at how hilarious I still found the opening scene. One of the clever things about this movie is that Jim Carrey portrays Ace Ventura as a crazed cartoon like character but with just enough breaks in the vocal tics to make you believe that he actually is a real person who has put up this kind of weird defensive shield against the world. Everyone around him reacts exactly as you would expect people to react in the face of someone behaving like an idiot all day long who somehow manages to achieve results. I think maybe as a teenager I was unconsciously impressed by someone behaving exactly as they please and getting away with it because they’re so good at what they do. All of this somehow grounds the movie in realism (except the bit where Courtney Cox sleeps with him, when he catches a bullet between his teeth, when the giant shark doesn’t kill him and also when he strikes two henchman in the head with an incredibly heavy piece of machinery and they aren’t instantly killed. Hmmm, maybe I should re-think the above paragraph).
Still, I found myself laughing out loud, especially at the posh party scene- IMDB factoid- Jim Carrey improvised the moment he yanked the arm of the violin player. Huuulllarious.
I’d also never noticed that the entire kidnapping of Snowflake actually makes no sense at all. The only grudge Finkle has is with Dan Marino and by kidnapping him that would be enough to upset the team into losing. The logistics of kidnapping a dolphin are probably pretty complex too. The only reason any of this happens is to allow the film to actually hire Ace Ventura. I believe that all of my life experience and accumulated wisdom to date has been most effectively deployed in identifying this major plot flaw.
However as mentioned before I was most curious to see how I felt about all the transgender stuff. A little like Snowflake’s kidnapping the sex change part of the story actually serves no purpose in advancing the plot other than to be ‘funny’. In particular there are two scenes, the first is where Ace passionately kisses Lois Einhorn. Later in the film where it suddenly dawns on him that ‘Einhorn is Finkle, Finkle is Einhorn’ and that ‘Einhorn is a man’ the music from the ‘Crying Game’ kicks in and Ace is shown gagging and vomiting, burning his clothes and then weeping in the shower. In one of the final scenes, Ace proves that Einhorn is Finkle to an assembled mass of police officers by revealing the bulge of her genitals in her panties. Mass vomiting then ensues.
It all makes for quite uncomfortable viewing now when you realise that these scenes are just as unacceptable as showing someone vomiting in response to a character’s revelation of homosexuality. On IMDB it also mentions that the film did outrage the LGBT community, all of which went completely over my teenage head at the time, but it’s very difficult to imagine this film being made now and I wonder whether that’s one of the reasons it never seems to be shown on television anymore*. The film also spawned 3 series of an animated kids show, I’d like to imagine that at no point did this show Ace burning his clothes after coming into contact with someone transgender. I don’t think that would go down too well during an episode of ‘In the Night Garden’.
Watching the movie again made me laugh and made me nostalgic but also made me feel guilty and soiled. In fact I would like to think that should my vomiting friend watch this movie again, his reaction would be the same but this time in response to quite how breathtakingly offensive it actually is.
*Postscript it’s being shown on Channel 5 right now. They obviously don’t care.