Somebody stop us! In Episode 21, When We Were Young says “alrighty, then!” to a trip back to 1994, when Jim Carrey soared to superstar status in three back-to-back blockbusters — Dumb & Dumber, The Mask, and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.
We’re not just talking out of our asses here. Clearly, Carrey was one of the most bankable stars of our youth… but how do his rubber-faced hijinks hold up when viewed for the first time as adults? Are these comedies still sssmokin’, or do misogyny and homophobia end up making everyone involved look like a LOOOO-HOOOOO-SER?
It’s the most eye-popping, jaw-dropping, fourth-wall-breaking, 90s-catchphrase-spewing, Cameron Diaz-introducing episode of the podcast yet! So fire up your ’84 sheep dog, kill a couple pretty birds, and prepare to hear the most annoying sound in the world, because we’re about to spend an entire year with Jim Carrey!
(Seriously… won’t somebody stop us??)
This was a particularly fun episode of the podcast for me, because I got to rediscover three significant films from 1994 that I hadn’t seen since at least 1995. Classmates spewing catchphrases from these films stuck out to me more than anything about these films themselves. None of these movies were particular favorites of mine as a child (hence, I never watched them again), so I had very little idea what to expect in taking another look.
Budget: $15 million
Opening Weekend: $12.1 million
Domestic Total Gross: $72.7 million
Worldwide Total Gross: $107.2 million
Metacritic Score: 37
“Jim Carrey stoops to new highs in low comedy: Actually he bends over, flaps his cheeks and introduces the world to butt ventriloquism in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. A riot from start to finish, Carrey’s first feature comedy is as cheerfully bawdy as it is idiotically inventive.” – Rita Kempley, Washington Post
“The movie basically has one joke, which is Ace Ventura’s weird nerdy strangeness. If you laugh at this joke, chances are you laugh at Jerry Lewis, too, and I can sympathize with you even if I can’t understand you. I found the movie a long, unfunny slog through an impenetrable plot. Kids might like it. Real little kids.” – Roger Ebert
Having not seen this film since its initial home video release, I remembered next to nothing about it, except that the storyline somehow involved the Miami Dolphins and spawned oh-so-many ubiquitous mid-90s catchphrases. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective is a film everyone remembers but is rarely referenced or discussed, at least in my presence. I expected to have very little to say about it.
And boy, oh boy is there a lot to say about Ace Ventura.I wasn’t expecting to like the movie now, given that I didn’t even particularly like it when I was ten years old. At this point in my life, most of Ace Ventura‘s comedy was already too juvenile for me. But I had completely forgotten the movie’s central twist: that Sean Young’s Lieutenant Einhorn turns out to be the male villain in disguise, resulting in Ace Ventura violently stripping her in front of the police before he beats her. This is some Boys Don’t Cry level transphobia, and the fact that it’s played for laughs makes it all the more disturbing. It’s amazing that this movie got away with that in 1994, and that most people didn’t even think about how wrong it was. Hooray for progress?
A cleverer script might have found a way to mock the ways Silence Of The Lambs and The Crying Game portrayed its gender-bending characters. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective is not at all clever. Aside from its jokey, backward attitude toward non-gender conformity, which might be forgiven in context of the times, the movie seems completely oblivious about its central promise, never establishing what a “pet detective” does, or why Ace Ventura is one. A broad studio comedy like this doesn’t necessarily need much in the way of establishing a character, but Ace Ventura doesn’t know what it’s parodying, or why its central premise is supposed to be funny. Football, pets, police work, a surprise gender-flip — none of this fits together in a single story without some guiding comedic force behind it. The film’s only “joke” seems to be that Ace Ventura is super obnoxious. That’s it. I can’t think of another movie that so fully squanders such a no-brainer premise.
(For the record, in Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, the character actually makes sense in comparison, even if it’s not exactly a masterpiece.)
July 29, 1994
Budget: $23 million
Opening Weekend: $23.1 million
Domestic Total Gross: $119.9 million
Worldwide Total Gross: $351.6 million
Metacritic Score: 56
“The Mask underscores the shrinking importance of conventional storytelling in special effects-minded movies… Far more energy has gone into stretching Mr. Carrey’s face, twirling his legs and conceiving animation-style gags for him to exploit than into creating a single interesting character or memorable line. Even more egregiously than most of this summer’s blockbusters, The Mask tells a story that wouldn’t be worth telling without tricks.” – Janet Maslin, New York Times
“It is said that one of the indispensable qualities of an actor is an ability to communicate the joy he takes in his performance. You could say The Mask was founded on that.” – Roger Ebert
The Mask is the film that provided the biggest question mark for me, going into the podcast. I knew enough about Ace Ventura and Dumb And Dumberer to know that they weren’t stealth sophisticated comedies that had been unfairly dismissed over the years. I knew what audiences these films were aiming for, and that that audience wasn’t me.
The Mask had a bit more of an X-factor in my mind, given that it was based on a comic book character and had a bit more style to it. It was also the biggest hit of these three films and introduced the world to a very ravishing Cameron Diaz. Our podcast on Roger Rabbit informed that I’m not always up for zany, cartoon-like characters interacting with a hyper-stylized “real world.”But you know what? Sometimes I am, and The Mask gets it right in that respect. Carrey plays Stanley Ipkiss, a mild-mannered banker who wishes he had the confidence to “get the girl.” (Any girl will do, really.) Then he finds the titular mask, and becomes the titular Mask, unleashing his bonkers id, which owes a lot of its best ideas to Tex Avery.
In its funniest moments, The Mask is basically a live-action cartoon with the perfect star, Jim Carrey. His inner horndog reminds us of Pepe Le Pew, inner rage reminds us of Elmer Fudd, his unstoppable energy reminds us of the Tasmanian Devil. Carrey and the screenplay rely on some rather overdone impressions and film references, but a lot of it is truly entertaining, such as Carrey’s sassy salsa to “Cuban Pete,” which has the police dancing and singing along. (A much better use of the police than Ace Ventura’s groaning and vomiting transphobic cops.)
The crime plot wears out its welcome in the end, with a villain far too tepid to carry the third act of this film. (Luckily, we get Stanley’s dog wearing the mask for a while to liven things up.) The Mask is a film that knows what it’s trying to do and does it pretty well, containing at least a few moments to make you smile, if not laugh aloud. It’s also still one of the best showcases for Carrey as a performer, since he truly brings the character to life underneath all the prosthetics and makeup. (Easier said than done, if you ask the villains from Marvel movies.) I appreciated the film’s knowingly lame Gotham City proxy, Edge City, with Landfill Park being the most romantic spot in town. I also enjoyed the dash of darkness retained from the comic books that let Carrey play the role as a truly dangerous maniac, something he’s turned out to be pretty good at. The Mask isn’t a forgotten gem, but I was glad to revisit it.
Budget: $17 million
Opening Weekend: $16.4 million
Domestic Total Gross: $247.3 million
Worldwide Total Gross: $247.3 million
Metacritic Score: 41
Dumb And Dumber isn’t my thing. It just isn’t. I knew that when it was released, and I knew it before watching it for the podcast.
I can laugh at stupidity, but it usually needs to be couched in some cleverness. Ace Ventura is an idiot in a world full of idiots (who are either slightly smarter, or slightly dumber, than he is, with no rhyme or reason). The Mask is ridiculous and silly, but pretty crafty. Pure idiocy doesn’t amuse me much — I gravitate toward characters who are more clueless than incompetent. See: Romy And Michele’s High School Reunion, The Brady Bunch Movies, and (duh) Clueless. This highlights a crucial difference in comedies: when women are stupid in movies, they’re often stupid in a driven way. Romy and Michele decide to claim they invented Post-Its at their high school reunion, but we know what they want to accomplish with this, and they at least think through some of the details before the big lie. Regina George in Mean Girls is dumb enough to eat a bunch of high-calorie protein bars to “lose weight,” but she’s an evil genius about the best ways to undermine and sabotage her frenemies. Dumb And Dumber’s Harry and Lloyd, on the other hand, are wholly incompetent human beings. How did they even get jobs? Should they really be driving? Cher Horowitz and Marcia Brady never make us wonder if they need to be institutionalized, but I questioned this constantly during Dumb And Dumber.
Dumb And Dumber lives up to its title with amiably stupid humor, though the Farrelly brothers aren’t witless. The way Harry and Lloyd’s dumb comments are set up is often pretty clever. A few gags are legitimately funny, even if the script overall is pretty inconsistent about exactly how dumb these guys can be. I appreciated Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels’ performances, which play off each other well. Jeff Daniels plays Harry as different enough from Lloyd that the manic energy doesn’t get too tiresome. Dumb And Dumber is a passable comedy, though I wish it committed more to the subversive dark comedy that peers in around the edges (particularly in the Unrated edition).