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Remembering the Insanity of Ace Ventura: The Complete Opposite of a True Superhero

Ready to revisit Jim Carrey’s breakout big-screen role? All-righty then!

By Benjamin Bullard
Ace Ventura (Jim Carrey) bares his teeth in a colorful shirt in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994).

Though the movies’ hilarious success did spawn an inevitable fan-collectible comic book, it’s kind of hard to believe that nincompoop extraordinaire Ace Ventura started life not in the comics, but as an entirely original screen creation.

It’s safe to say that Jim Carrey’s now-iconic comedy character in 1994’s Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (streaming here on Peacock!) comes about as close to a human cartoon as live action gets in the movies. Audiences at the time were ripe for a leading lunatic this zany; by 1994, they’d been well seasoned with a string of late-1980s classic comedies like Who Framed Roger Rabbit and The Naked Gun and its sequels (and of course Carrey followed up Ace 10 months later with the Farrelly brothers’ Dumb and Dumber, while acting like a different kind of idiot alongside costar Jeff Daniels).

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Not even Roger Rabbit could animate his celluloid self into the kind of anti-heroically tortured contortions that Carrey managed to pull off in both the first Ace Ventura film as well as Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (also streaming on Peacock here), its quick-turnaround 1995 sequel. Directed by Tom Shadyac (who’d go on to work with Carrey again in Liar Liar and Bruce Almighty), the movie’s bone-headed, stolen sports mascot premise was already fine fodder for a comedy flick no matter who played the starring role. In Carrey’s hyper-elastic skin suit, though, the character came to kinetic life like a live action comic-book reject… like an eternally plucky weirdo whose adrenalized antics already had gotten him kicked out of a B-team superhero squad (maybe the Titans?) in some animated universe that couldn’t contain him.

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Via Screen Rant, Carrey wasn’t the creative team’s first choice: Established stars like Rick Moranis, Judd Nelson, and Alan Rickman all were considered ahead of Carrey for the role. In hindsight, of course, it’s impossible to imagine those actors (or any others) so vividly imbuing Ace Ventura with such a Plastic-Man wallop of near-superhuman physical comedy, which Carrey stretched, as far as humanly possible, to the very edges of what a human character can do onscreen without possessing some kind of supernatural gift.

Ace Ventura (Jim Carrey) (R) points at Lui-Même (Dan Marino) while a woman holds them at gunpoint in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994).

To this day, it’s hard to really describe the kind of character Carrey must’ve envisioned when he came up with Ace’s scene-crashing persona. In a sort of remote kinship with many of Jerry Lewis’ earlier screwball roles, Ace is the kind of guy who whose social radar is just too broken to care about looking like a fool around people — sometimes as a deceptive way to make bad guys underestimate him; sometimes just because he’s, well, an actual fool. But what really distinguishes Carrey’s dolphin-saving pet sleuth is that he’s actually pretty great at his oddly specific job, a signature trait that any superhero needs if they’re to take point in a larger, ongoing franchise.

Of course, you’d never know that if you make the fatal mistake of taking Ace only at face value. The guy acts like the final boss of slapstick comedy’s historical gauntlet of movie buffoons. One minute he’s literally talking out of his behind (much to costar Tone Loc’s regret); the next he’s making a messy scatological scene at a swanky Miami mansion party hosted by a dignified rich guy (the inimitably cool Udo Kier). But the movie smartly gives Ace at least a few supporting characters who (somehow) see past all his, um, idiotic idiosyncrasies. No matter how stupid he gets, gal pal Melissa (Courteney Cox) stays right at his side, hectoring Ace back on track just enough to keep him out of handcuffs — all while totally buying into the hunch that there must be a hidden method to the madness.

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In a subversive, genre-tweaking way that almost anticipates later anti-hero roles that scored big with audiences (think Karl Urban’s all-too-human supe antagonist Billy Butcher on The Boys), Ace offset his always-on insanity by having a genuine passion for his chosen line of work — not to mention a well-attuned sense of justice for evildoers. And aren’t those more or less the same key ingredients that compel more typical good-guy comics superheroes, from Spidey to Superman, to do what they do? Sure, he might not possess any actual superhero powers or abilities — but whatever the secret sauce is that gave Ace Ventura his energy, it's gotta have an origin story that's worthy of the comics. 

Catch Jim Carrey giving it his heroic best in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, both currently streaming on Peacock!

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