Ace Ventura (Jim Carrey) is carrying a package of fragile glassware down the street, but has a strange way of going about it, taking every opportunity to shake, hit and kick it as he approaches the apartment he is heading for. Once at the front door, a big guy (Randall 'Tex' Cobb) answers and barely tolerates Ace asking for him to fill out the requisite form, though as he does the gruff man's pet dog approaches. Ace fusses over it and makes his exit, but as he walks purposefully from the building, the dog's head pokes out from under his shirt: Ventura is a pet detective, and he has been hired to track the pooch down by its rightful owner. Which is fair enough, but he does have a habit of getting into hot water...
Or even cold water when the mascot of the Miami Dolphins football team goes missing and our hero is invited in to investigate. 1994 was the banner year for Carrey, the one that broke him as a major star at the box office with three huge hits in a row, starting with this irreverent comedy that showcased his abilities to play as broadly as he could without losing the sympathies of the audience, indeed the more way out his performance became the better his fans liked it. He had been acting and performing comedy on the screen since the eighties, and sketch show In Living Color proved his breakthrough, bringing him to the worldwide fame that his fellow comedians on that could only dream of.
He proved an eccentric talent on and off the screen, very much subject to various whims which at times did him no favours, but his ingenuity when it came to securing laughs marked him out as one of the most distinctive comedians of the nineteen-nineties, and come the end of the decade, an accomplished serious actor as well, thus proving the sad clown cliché was correct as far as demonstrating his thespian chops went. But for those who followed him from his first big impact on the humour scene, they treasured that trio of films from this year, one of the most remarkable of any star of his generation, comedic or otherwise. His incredible dedication to getting a giggle out of the audience here, where every line was imbued with a near-insane degree of effort, was impressive.
You could tell Carrey's Ace was the beginning of a roll for him that obviously could not last forever, but assuredly made the cinemagoers of the world sit up and take notice (though not every viewer was sympathetic, actually there were those who couldn't stand his manic style). The character had a gimmick, more than one in fact, where he had a great respect for animals and that was channelled into a Sherlock Holmesian flair for detection, handy not simply for finding the dolphin but also uncovering the culprit. Now, while the opening half of this was very amusing, with Ace winding up all and sundry, authority figures a speciality, when he got down to brass tacks and grew closer to the nature of the crime (which progressed to include murder as well as kidnapping), the gags began to sour somewhat.
Gay rights groups complained when the villain of the piece emerged as, shall we say, a rather sexually confused personality, and while director Tom Shadyac had a point when he pointed out that Ace's revolted and traumatised reaction to kissing a man was absolutely ridiculous as in keeping with the rest of his behaviour, the complainers also had a point when they wondered if this wasn't the most positive representation of their genders in the movies. Not to mention the film's treatment of mental illness with as much sensitivity as a Three Stooges short from the thirties, and the punishment doled out to Sean Young's police lieutenant apparently because she doesn't find Ace as engaging as Courteney Cox's character does, Cox having been hired to look on adoringly and stifling chuckles as her hero irritates yet another boorish square. The defence that Ventura was essentially a cartoon in human form did not quite smooth over the film's reactionary qualities which were difficult to ignore as it wore on. When Carrey was on form, few in the nineties could touch him, and his sustained nuttiness was a marvel, but stick with the sequel to see Ace at his best. Music by Ira Newborn.