Ace Ventura: Pet Detective Made Jim Carrey a Household Name 30 Years Ago

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In Hollywood, anyone can transform from a complete nobody to a bona fide superstar overnight. Think about that. At one point, no one knew anything about Jim Carrey. Then, poof! He emerges as one of the greatest comedians of our time.

Thirty years ago, I walked into a dark theater hesitantly to see Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, unaware of Carrey, but I became an instant fan. “Don’t start talking like that guy,” Dad said, already annoyed at the phrase, “All righty then” by the time we returned to our hotel. Like so many others, I couldn’t help myself. Jim Carrey’s stellar performance stuck with me.

In the years that followed, it seemed like everyone wanted to be like Ace. It was quite a phenomenon. For a brief period, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective became the must-see movie among kids aged 10 to 16. It was a wacky comedy that was too risqué for our mothers, but not so much that it stopped us from watching it repeatedly.

I just realized I’ve never owned the film. Ever. Not on VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, or digital. My mom hated Carrey, especially after watching him pretend to suck on a woman’s breast in Liar, Liar. By the time I was old enough to collect my own video library, Ace was firmly in the rearview mirror, replaced by Ron Burgundy, Seth, and Evan.

All these years later, Ace annoys me more than he makes me laugh. I’m older, more grumpy, and less captivated by the film’s outrageous humor. In 1994, this was all fresh. Now, three decades and a zillion imitators later, Ace feels like a relic from an era far, far away, a time when talking out of your butt felt edgy and rebellious rather than juvenile.

It only took 30 years for me to see the film my dad saw in 1994.

Yet, I wholeheartedly recommend Ace Venture: Pet Detective because the film catapulted Jim Carrey into the spotlight.

Before his breakout, Carrey made guest appearances in several movies, including Peggy Sue Got Married, Earth Girls Are Easy, and The Dead Pool. He also had a successful stint on In Living Color from 1990-94 as the lone “white guy.” Carrey’s talent was evident in characters like Fire Marshall Bill and the Karate Instructor. You couldn’t take your eyes off him. He gained popularity as a stand-up comedian known for his celebrity impressions. However, when he decided to diversify his routine, audiences scoffed.

“Some nights it was a melee, literally, where I’d be standing trying to defend myself for what I was doing,” Carrey told 60 Minutes. “People would be screaming at me to do my old act and getting actually violent and angry at me.” 

Luckily, his performance on In Living Color caught the attention of producer James G. Robinson, who cast him as Ace Ventura—but only after everyone from Rick Moranis to Whoopi Goldberg turned down the role. Robinson struck gold. What could have turned into a forgettable comedy turned into a forgettable comedy with an unforgettable performance. 

Notes Lane Vasquez in an article published on The Things: “Instead of letting Ventura become a ‘bumbling idiot’ as the script indicated, Jim transformed him into a quirky yet intelligent pet detective. Carrey’s influence is also what resulted in the phrase ‘all righty then’ featuring heavily in the film.”

Carrey’s contributions save the picture. He never misses a beat.

“Jim is an incredible improviser,” director Tom Shadyac explained during a Reddit Q&A. “He’s flat-out a genius when it comes to creating fresh moments during a scene. And yes, he improvises a LOT. But that’s always AFTER he’s thought about the script from every angle. So he does his homework, considers every written choice, acts the written choice for us, then is free to let it rip!”

Roger Ebert was less kind. In his review published in 1994, the late critic compared Carrey’s antics to Jerry Lewis, meant to appeal to “real little kids.” 

“Carrey plays Ace as if he’s being clocked on an Energy-O-Meter, and paid by the calories expended,” he wrote. “He’s a hyper goon who likes to screw his mouth into strange shapes while playing variations on the language.”

As an adult, I’m inclined to agree. Ace Ventura is not a great movie, but Jim Carrey’s performance is top-tier. His skill in rising above the material enhances the overall production, a pattern he would consistently uphold throughout his career, evident in films such as The Grinch and Sonic the Hedgehog.

Ditto with Liar, Liar, Bruce Almighty, Fun with Dick and Jane, and The Mask, all by-the-numbers comedies bolstered by a brilliant superstar. Personally, I think Carrey’s best outright comedy is Dumb and Dumber, a film that is further enhanced by the creative touch of the Farrelly Brothers. The actor even makes Ace Ventura’s sequel, When Nature Calls, watchable. He’s pitch-perfect in the role, but that’s probably because Carrey, as we would later discover, is an outstanding actor.

The Cable Guy, The Truman Show, Man On the Moon, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and the TV series Kidding are remarkable examples of Carrey’s brilliance. He should have an Oscar by now.

Although Jim Carrey hasn’t had a major hit in recent years without Sonic, he is still a fascinating and unconventional celebrity who has used his fame to take on unique projects. Some of them have been successful, while others have not. However, it is safe to say that he has achieved a level of success that many people (including myself) only dream of.

And it all started with a pet detective literally talking out of his ass 30 years ago. Say what you will about Ace Ventura, but this silly comedy delivered one of the great actors of our time. “Alllllll righty then.”

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