Ace Ventura: Pet Detective is a 1994 American comedy film starring Jim Carrey, who plays Ace Ventura, an animal detective who is tasked with finding an abducted dolphin who is the mascot of the US football team Miami Dolphins. The film was directed by Tom Shadyac, who wrote the screenplay with Carrey and Jack Bernstein. Bernstein and Bob Israel (ultimately a co-producer for the film) developed the project for almost six years. The film co-stars Courteney Cox, Tone Loc, Sean Young and former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino. The film features a cameo appearance from death metal band Cannibal Corpse.
The film was produced on a budget of $15 million. Despite receiving generally unfavorable reviews from critics, it emerged as a big box office hit, grossing $107.2 million worldwide. In addition to launching Carrey's film career, it also spawned the sequel film Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (1995), the animated TV series Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (three seasons, 1995–2000), and later, the direct-to-video spin-off Ace Ventura Jr.: Pet Detective (2009).
Ace Ventura is an eccentric, and very unorthodox, Miami-based private detective who specializes in retrieving tame or captive animals. However, he struggles to pay his rent, and is often mocked by the Miami Police Department, led by Lieutenant Lois Einhorn, who finds Ventura insufferable. Two weeks before the Miami Dolphins are to play in the Super Bowl, their mascot, a bottlenose dolphin named Snowflake, is kidnapped. Melissa Robinson, the Dolphins’ chief publicist, hires Ventura to find Snowflake.
Searching Snowflake’s tank for clues, Ventura finds a rare triangular-cut, orange amber stone, which he recognizes as a part of a 1984 AFC Championship ring. Ace suspects a billionaire, Ronald Camp, may have stolen Snowflake. Ventura and Melissa sneak in to Camp’s party, Ventura mistakes a shark for Snowflake and is nearly eaten. Camp apologises, shaking Ventura’s hand, with his hand wearing a ring with an amber stone identical to the one Ventura found. Ruling out Camp, Ventura concludes that a member of the 1984 Miami Dolphins line-up may have kidnapped Snowflake, and will be able to identify the culprit by their rings. However, he discovers all of the team members’ rings are intact.
Roger Podacter, the team’s head of operations, mysteriously dies after falling from his apartment balcony. Einhorn declares it a suicide, but Ventura proves it to have been murder. Ventura comes across an old photograph of the football team, discovering an unfamiliar player named Ray Finkle, who was only added in during midseason. Finkle missed the field goal kick at the end of Super Bowl XVII, which cost the Dolphins the championship, ruining his career.
Visiting Finkle’s parents, Ventura learns that Finkle fully blames Dan Marino for the end of his career, and was subsequently committed to a mental hospital for homicidal tendencies. Marino is kidnapped himself shortly after. Ventura visits Einhorn, pitching his theory that Finkle kidnapped both Marino and Snowflake in an act of revenge, since the dolphin has been given Finkle's old team number and a goal trick to boot. He also theorises that Finkle murdered Podacter. Einhorn compliments Ventura and kisses him.
Ventura and Melissa go to the mental hospital, the former posing as a potential patient, where he uncovers a newspaper article in Finkle’s possessions about a missing hiker named Lois Einhorn. Ventura realises that Einhorn is in fact Finkle: Finkle used the fact that the actual Einhorn was missing and presumed dead (with no body found), and took on her identity, had surgery to change his gender, and began a career with the Miami Police Department to eventually get revenge on Marino and the Dolphins. On Super Bowl Sunday, Ventura follows Einhorn to an abandoned yacht storage facility where she has Marino and Snowflake held hostage. Einhorn calls the police, framing Ventura for the kidnappings. Melissa and Ventura’s friend, police officer Emilio, stage a hostage situation to get the police to listen to Ventura.
Ventura strips Einhorn of his clothes to expose his failure to completely change her sex, but fails until Marino points out a bulge in the back of his underwear, actually Finkle’s unchanged privates hidden out of view. This confirms that Finkle murdered Podacter after the latter had discovered Finkle’s secret. Einhorn is arrested by the police after attacking Ventura, and Finkle’s ring is identified to have a missing stone. Marino and Snowflake are welcomed back during half-time at the Super Bowl in a match between the Dolphins and the Philadelphia Eagles. Ventura tries to retrieve a valuable albino pigeon, but it is scared off by the Eagles’ mascot Swoop, causing Ventura to attack him in retaliation.
- Jim Carrey as Ace Ventura
- Courteney Cox as Melissa Robinson
- Sean Young as Lt. Lois Einhorn / Ray Finkle
- Tone Loc as Emilio
- Dan Marino as Himself
- John Capodice as Sgt. Aguado
- Noble Willingham as Riddle
- Troy Evans as Roger Podacter
- Raynor Scheine as Woodstock
- Udo Kier as Ronald Camp
- Frank Adonis as Vinnie
- Tiny Ron as Roc
- David Margulies as Doctor
- Bill Zuckert as Mr. Finkle
- Judy Clayton as Martha Mertz
- Alice Drummond as Mrs. Finkle
- Rebecca Ferratti as Sexy Woman
- Mark Margolis as Mr. Shickadance, Ace's landlord
- Randall "Tex" Cobb as Gruff Man
- Cannibal Corpse as themselves
The Chairman and CEO of Morgan Creek Productions, James G. Robinson, sought in the early 1990s to produce a comedy that would have wide appeal. Gag writer Tom Shadyac pitched a rewrite of the script to Robinson and was hired as director for what was his directorial debut. Filmmakers first approached Rick Moranis to play Ace Ventura, but Moranis declined the role. They then considered casting Judd Nelson or Alan Rickman, and they also considered changing Ace Ventura to be female and casting Whoopi Goldberg as the pet detective. Ultimately the producers noticed Jim Carrey's performance in the sketch comedy show In Living Color and cast him as Ace Ventura.
Carrey helped rewrite the script, and filmmakers allowed him to improvise on set. Carrey said of his approach, "I knew this movie was going to either be something that people really went for, or it was going to ruin me completely. From the beginning of my involvement, I said that the character had to be rock 'n' roll. He had to be the 007 of pet detectives. I wanted to be unstoppably ridiculous, and they let me go wild." He said he sought comedic moments that would be unappealing to some, "I wanted to keep the action unreal and over the top. When it came time to do my reaction to kissing a man, I wanted it to be the biggest, most obnoxious, homophobic reaction ever recorded. It's so ridiculous it can't be taken seriously--even though it guarantees that somebody's going to be offended."
Filming took place in Miami, Florida in the second quarter of 1993. The film was produced on a budget of $15 million.
Warner Bros. released Ace Ventura: Pet Detective in 1,750 theaters in the United States and Canada on February 4, 1994. The film grossed $12.1 million on its opening weekend, ranking first at the box office and outperforming other new releases My Father the Hero and I'll Do Anything. For its second weekend, it grossed $9.7 million and ranked first at the box office again, outperforming newcomers The Getaway, Blank Check, and My Girl 2. Variety reported of Ace Ventura's second weekend in box office performance, "The goofball comedy defied dire predictions by trackers, slipping just 20% for a three-day average of $5,075 and $ 24.6 million in 10 days." It grossed a total of $72.2 million in the United States and Canada and a total of $35 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $107.2 million. The film's US box office performance led Variety to label it a "sleeper hit".
Carrey also starred in The Mask and Dumb and Dumber later in the year; the three films had a total box office gross of $550 million, which ranked Carrey as the second highest-grossing box office star in 1994, behind Tom Hanks.
The Hollywood Reporter said before Ace Ventura, Jim Carrey was "seen mainly as TV talent" and that with the film's success, it "firmly [established] him as a big-screen presence". The film's success also led Morgan Creek Productions to produce the 1995 sequel Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls with Carrey reprising his role.
The review aggregator website Metacritic surveyed 14 contemporary reviews and assessed six as negative, five as positive, and three as mixed. The website gave the film a score of 37 out of 100, which it said indicated "generally unfavorable reviews". On the similar website Rotten Tomatoes which surveys contemporary and retrospective reviews as positive or negative, 52 reviews were assessed, with 46% giving the film a positive review. Across all reviews, the website calculated a rating average of 4.5 out of 10.
Roger Ebert, reviewing for the Chicago Sun-Times, said, "I found the movie a long, unfunny slog through an impenetrable plot." Ebert described the lead role, "Carrey plays Ace as if he's being clocked on an Energy-O-Meter, and paid by the calories expended. He's a hyper goon who likes to screw his mouth into strange shapes while playing variations on the language." James Berardinelli said, "The comic momentum sputters long before the running time has elapsed." Berardinelli said of Carrey that he "uses his rubber features and goofy personae" that succeeds for a short time but after that, "Carrey's act gradually grows less humorous and more tiresome, and the laughter in the audience seems forced." The critic said the film has "its moments" of humor but considered there to be "a lot of dead screen time" in between.
The New York Times film critic Stephen Holden said, "The comic actor Jim Carrey gives one the most hyperactive performances ever brought to the screen... Only a child could love Mr. Carrey's character, but that may be the point. The movie has the metabolism, logic and attention span of a peevish 6-year-old." He said of Ace Ventura's animals, "The few scenes of Ace communicating with his animals hint at an endearing wackiness that is abruptly undercut by the movie's ridiculous plot."
The Washington Post's film critics Rita Kempley and Desson Howe reviewed the film positively. Kempley said, "A riot from start to finish, Carrey's first feature comedy is as cheerfully bawdy as it is idiotically inventive." She added, "A spoof of detective movies, the story touches all the bases." Howe said that the film "is a mindless stretch of nonsense" and highlighted multiple "Carreyisms along the way". Howe concluded, "There are some unfortunate elements that were unnecessary -- a big strain of homophobic jokes for one, profane and sexual situations that rule out the kiddie audience for another. But essentially, Ace is an unsophisticated opportunity to laugh at the mischief Carrey's body parts can get up to."
Along with The Mask and Dumb and Dumber, both also released in 1994, the film is widely credited with launching the career of actor Jim Carrey. Carrey was nominated for the 1994 MTV Movie Award for Best Comedic Performance but lost to Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire. Carrey was also nominated for a Razzie Award for "Worst New Star".
Since the film was released, there has been some discussion over the way in which it portrays transgender people. Alexandra Gonzenbach Perkins wrote in Representing Queer and Transgender Identity that mainstream representation of transgender identity at the turn of the 21st century was limited, observing, "The representations that did exist tended to pathologize transgender people as mentally unstable." Perkins said Ace Ventura along with The Crying Game depicted "transgender characters as murderous villains". In the book Reclaiming Genders, in a chapter focusing on transgender identity, Gordene O. Mackenzie references Ace Ventura as an example of turn-of-the-century films that "illustrate the transphobia implicit in many popular US films". Mackenzie describes the scene in which Ace Ventura retches in the bathroom, following the revelation that the woman he had kissed is trans, as "one of the most memorable and blatantly transphobic/homophobic scenes". In The New York Times in 2016, Farhad Manjoo also writes about this scene, "There was little culturally suspect then about playing gender identity for laughs. Instead, as in many fictional depictions of transgender people in that era, the scene’s prevailing emotion is of nose-holding disgust."
In October 2017, Morgan Creek Entertainment Group announced plans to reboot several films from its library, including Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Its president David Robinson said Morgan Creek's plan was not to simply remake the film, but to do a follow-up in which Ace Ventura passes the mantle to a new character, such as a long-lost son or daughter. In 2018, according to Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls costar Tommy Davidson, Carrey displayed a lack of interest in participating.
By March 2021, a sequel film was in development at Amazon Studios with the screenwriters of the 2020 film Sonic the Hedgehog, Pat Casey and Josh Miller, attached.
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- Holden, Stephen (February 4, 1994). "Reviews/Film; On the Trail Of a Lost Fish", The New York Times. Retrieved on March 21, 2018.
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- Perkins, Alexander Gonzenbach (2017). Representing Queer and Transgender Identity: Fluid Bodies in the Hispanic Caribbean and Beyond. Bucknell University Press, page 43. ISBN 978-1-61148-840-1.
- Mackenzie, Gordene O. (2016). "50 Billion Galaxies of Gender: Transgendering the Millennium", Reclaiming Genders: Transsexual Grammars at the Fin de Siecle, Gender Studies: Bloomsbury Academic Collections. Bloomsbury Publishing, page 208. ISBN 978-1-4742-9283-2.
- Manjoo, Farhad (June 7, 2016). "In the Fight for Transgender Equality, Winning Hearts and Minds Online", The New York Times. Retrieved on March 20, 2018.
- Andreeva, Nellie (October 26, 2017). "Morgan Creek Prods. Rebrands Itself, Plans TV & Film Reboots Of 'Young Guns', 'Ace Ventura,' 'Major League' & More". Retrieved on March 23, 2018.
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