ACE VENTURA: WHEN NATURE CALLS (1995)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 34 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Crude Humor

Directed by: Steve Oedekerk

Written by: Steve Oedekerk

Starring: Jim Carrey, Ian McNeice, Simon Callow, Maynard Eziashi, Bob Gunton, Andrew Steel, Bruce Spence & Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje

Seeing that ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE made seven times its budget back at the box office, it was only a matter of time before Warner Brothers pumped out a sequel. They handed the reigns of this second go-round to director/writer Steve Oedekerk (who later produced the THUMB shorts and martial arts spoof KUNG POW!: ENTER THE FIST). 1995 had also given Jim Carrey enough time to properly hone his big screen comedic abilities. As a result, ACE VENTURA: WHEN NATURE CALLS is a comedy sequel that’s surprisingly superior to its predecessor. The story is noticeably weaker this time around, but the laughs are in far greater supply and the film’s utter silliness is sure to put a smile on your face.

After a failed CLIFFHANGER-esque rescue mission results in a dead raccoon, pet detective Ace Ventura (Jim Carrey) begins a life of solitude in a Tibet temple. Ace’s spiritual journey is interrupted by correspondent Fulton Greenwall (Ian McNeice) making an offer that Ace can’t refuse (20 thousand dollars for a single mission). A rare white bat has been kidnapped from an African tribe. If it isn’t found in a matter of days, bloodshed will ensue between two tribes. So, Ace is on the case and his investigation leads him to not-so-savory individuals, dangerous animals, and treacherous tribal customs. As you might imagine, Ace is not prepared and craziness ensues.

After starring in better comedies than the first ACE VENTURA (e.g. THE MASK, DUMB AND DUMBER), Jim Carrey seemed to get a handle on his laugh-inducing abilities and rubbery facial expressions. His second outing as Ace brings actual character to this character and not simply a series of hyperactive references (a problem that the first film suffered from). This character’s antics are funnier this time around, because we learn more about him. We watch as he subjects snobby rich people to the pain they’re inflicting upon animals (the Monopoly guy scene always cracks me up) and also laugh at how he’s petrified of bats (which makes his mission much more difficult).

In all honesty, the supporting cast members/characters aren’t worth mentioning because they pop up for a few scenes here and there. The plot is also a borderline repeat of the first film’s formula. There’s a kidnapped animal and Ace has to rescue it. Things also appear to be more complicated than he initially thought. However, WHEN NATURE CALLS drops the ball in making things too damn predictable this time around. You pretty much know who the main villain is in the first 15 minutes, so there’s not much mystery in this second “pet dick” flick.

What the film lacks in clever storytelling, it makes up for with hilarious set pieces that are far more memorable than any scene from the first film. This movie tackles immature humor and juvenile antics in a way that’s sure to elicit laughter from both adults and younger viewers. My favorite bits involve Ace having to escape from a mechanical Rhino, a “circle of death” tribal fight, and shadow puppets during the middle of an exposition dump. Those are far from the only good scenes though as the film keeps its humor constantly coming, whilst avoiding the flat bits that the first film had. Ace only speaks from his ass once and there are fewer references this time around. Again, I attribute these qualities to a better performance from Carrey and funnier writing from Steve Oedekerk. I also love this movie’s ending, because there was no ACE VENTURA 3 and viewers can interpret the conclusion in an oddly dark fashion.

ACE VENTURA: WHEN NATURE CALLS easily tops PET DETECTIVE. This sequel is much funnier than its predecessor, even if the plot is weaker. Laughter is what really counts in a comedy and this sequel supplies plenty of it. There are scenes that you’ll want to rewatch after you’ve seen the film, just you can cackle at them all over again. WHEN NATURE CALLS is a rare comedy sequel that surpasses the original and I rank this as the best installment in the short-lived ACE VENTURA franchise. Considering there was a three-season-long cartoon series and a child-oriented prequel that followed, the competition isn’t exactly fierce.

Grade: B

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-

DUMB AND DUMBER TO (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 49 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Crude and Sexual Humor, partial Nudity, Language and some Drug References

DUMB AND DUMBER TO, US advance poster art, from left: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, 2014. ©Universal

Directed by: Bobby Farrelly & Peter Farrelly

Written by: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly, Sean Anders, John Morris, Bennett Yellin & Mike Cerrone

Starring: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Laurie Holden, Kathleen Turner, Brady Bluhm, Steve Tom, Rachel Melvin & Rob Riggle

Two decades is a long time to wait for a sequel. Many might argue that it’s too long, especially since the original DUMB AND DUMBER walked a fine line between being stupid and clever. For those not in the know, that 1994 comedy followed the road trip of two innocent idiots caught up in the deadly antics of a kidnapping. The film launched the careers of the Farrelly brothers (whose best film is still THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY in my book) and catapulted Jim Carrey into being an A-list star. In DUMB AND DUMBER TO, the Farrellys and the two leads (Carrey and Jeff Daniels) return in an attempt to recapture lighting in a bottle. It doesn’t work out so well this time around.

DUMB AND DUMBER TO, from left: Jeff Daniels, Jim Carrey, 2014. ph: Hopper Stone/©Universal

Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne are back on another adventure after discovering that Harry has an illegitimate daughter. This unexpected news couldn’t come at a more convenient time, especially since Harry is suffering from kidney problems and needs a donor to give up a vital organ for him. Unwilling to part with his own body part and willing to drive him across country, Lloyd takes Harry out on the road to track down his now-grown kid. Unfortunately, the bumbling morons wind up in the sights of more criminals and wacky mayhem ensues.

DUMB AND DUMBER TO, from left: Rachel Melvin, Jim Carrey, 2014. ph: Hopper Stone/©Universal

The biggest problem with DUMB AND DUMBER TO is that with six(!) screenwriters, the film packs in less than half of the jokes and chuckle-worthy dialogue of the original film. It would be quite a task to perfectly nail that 90’s comedy nostalgic vibe that was exclusive to the time period, but the Farrellys are trying way too hard. They’re literally throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. The same can be said of rehashed basic plot points (many scenes play off as a weaker semi-remade moments from the first film) and other jokes are just plain recycled (though they don’t work nearly as well on the second time). This can especially be shown in end credits that showcase clips from both films side-to-side in almost a meta way of saying “See, we did it again!”

DUMB AND DUMBER TO, from left: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, 2014. ph: Hopper Stone/©Universal

One big positive is that Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels slip right back into the roles of Lloyd and Harry with little to no effort. These actors disappear into the beloved characters, even if the writing isn’t quite up to snuff of giving them many interesting things to do in the overall story. However, it felt like Lloyd and Harry were too stupid during certain scenes. They were idiots in the first movie, but they weren’t as obnoxious and annoying as they are here. It’s almost like the 20 years have further drained IQ points out of their characters to an even more far-fetched level. The predecessor never got too over-the-top in a way that seemed Seth Macfarlane-like, but this second installment mainly focuses on making a more outlandish repeat of the first movie…resulting in a handful of solid laughs and a lot of awkward unfunny silence. Rob Riggle is the only welcomed addition to the cast of characters. He’s sort of wasted in a side part, but not nearly as much as Laurie Holden as the main baddie.

DUMB AND DUMBER TO, from left: Laurie Holden, Rob Riggle, 2014. ph: Hopper Stone/©Universal

To add insult to injury, DUMB AND DUMBER TO goes out on a huge anti-climax. The ending felt like it was shrug-inducing and not nearly as exciting or funny as it was intended to be. This being said, the last third is where some of the really nifty twists that I didn’t see coming pop up. I also laughed at some funny scenes in the second half, but the first hour was almost a struggle to get through. I shouldn’t have to look for things to laugh at in a comedy like this as the film’s primary goal should be giving me things to laugh at right away. That’s a problem.

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DUMB AND DUMBER TO was never going to be high art or the best comedy of the year, but it’s disappointing nonetheless. While I can praise Carrey and Daniels’s chemistry together after all these years and there are funny scenes, the movie suffers from a so-so script and overly familiar jokes (some downright recycled from the first movie). It’s not nearly as bad as the godawful prequel DUMB AND DUMBERER, but that’s not exactly praise you want to aiming for in a sequel to a beloved cult classic that’s two decades old. Some people may outright love this sequel, but I was let down. It’s a middle-of-the-road experience as a whole.

Grade: C

I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS (2010)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 38 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Sexual Content including Strong Dialogue, and Language

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Directed by: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa

Written by: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa

Starring: Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro

Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. This is one of those times. I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS is a movie that defies being lumped into any specific genre. Funny, tender, and heartfelt, it’s all inspired by the real life story of Steven Russell, a gay con-man who found love within the confines of his prison walls. This film also features the best performance I’ve seen Jim Carrey give in his whole career, while Ewan McGregor shines as well.

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Steven Russell is a seemingly straight-laced police officer with a wife and child, but he’s also been living a secret life of indulging in his homosexual fantasies. This is because Steven Russell is gay and always has been. He’s been keeping this little secret from everybody, obviously his wife. After a near death experience, Steven comes out and lives his lifestyle out in the open. He finds that being gay is really expensive, so he becomes a con-man. After being found out and making two feeble escape attempts, Russell is thrown behind bars. This where he meets Phillip Morris (a blond-haired blue-eyed gay fellow) and destiny strikes. Steven and Phillip fall madly in love with each other. Steven pledges that he’ll take care of Phillip in every way possible, but old habits die hard.

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In all honesty, the story of Steven Russell doesn’t sound like a very exciting one on paper. (The film is a true story, but some might consider the next sentence a spoiler.) It’s about a con-artist who’s arrested, finds love, and goes back into crime which takes him back behind bars, from which he makes many brilliant (but not quite brilliant enough) escapes. It doesn’t sound like the typical Hollywood love story or a kind of film that would fit the mainstream audience at all and to be fair, it’s probably not.

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Those uncomfortable with the idea of homosexuality might find themselves extremely uncomfortable for the duration of this movie. It is admirable that the film doesn’t make the gay aspect of the love story into a gimmick though. In fact, it’s treated with dignity and respect. There are a couple of jokes thrown in here and there, but it’s all in good fun. This isn’t a shock value film, but instead it’s almost like a quirky surreal comedy….but this one really happened.

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The film is thoroughly entertaining from frame one. After all, Steven Russell was adopted and finds out where his mother (who gave him up) lives, but he certainly doesn’t expect what else he discovers. It’s absolutely mind-boggling that this stuff actually happened and it amplifies the film’s hilarity tenfold. There is a true moment of realization where the viewer is so wrapped up in the fascinating story of Steven’s odd criminal life that we actually wake up to the idea that we are rooting for this slimy, cheating con-man, but that just shows how well-executed I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS is.

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As Steven Russell, Jim Carrey takes on a serious character with some crazy tendencies (mostly shown in a brilliant montage of one escape attempt after another). With a Southern drawl and a change in sexual orientation, Carrey fully inhabits the persona of Steven Russell. Ewan McGregor is also great as the bashful Phillip Morris, who still remains devoted to Steven, despite some of his wrongdoings. One moment near the tail end of the movie between them feels so sincere and heartfelt that it actually made me tear up. Of course, there was a well-placed laugh shortly afterwards, but it doesn’t dismiss that it got a strong reaction out of me.

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In the end, the balance of comedy and romance is a line finely walked. It’s rare to see a film these days with those concepts that dares to step out of the box, but I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS stands as a middle finger to chick flicks and generic rom-coms. This is a heartfelt combination of oddball comedy, sincere drama, and a touching romance. In reality, Steven Russell made such a mockery of the state of Texas and Governor George Bush, that he’s currently serving a life sentence and the film makes you feel a bit bad for the guy. Yes, he’s a con-man, but he also experienced love and desperately wants to get it back. If you’re open-minded enough, then you might wind up loving I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS!

Grade: A+

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