Sunday 26 June 2011

Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (1995)


So, as we covered yesterday, 1994 gave the world Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. It was a huge success, raked in lots at the box office and made a star of Jim Carrey. One year later, and they were back for more, under a new writer and director, but bringing Carrey back to reprise the title role in… Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls.

At the request of the African consulate, Ace Ventura (Jim Carrey) is drawn out of a self-imposed exile in a remote Himalayan monastery and travels to the Dark Continent to help track down a sacred white bat and stop an impending war between two tribes.

I vaguely remembered thinking it was okay when it came out, but I was 12.  I’ll just flat out say that I didn’t particularly care for this film now. As such, it’s probably prudent to go into the reasons why I did not care for it, and why it’s perhaps not really worth your time either.

Firstly, the script is an absolute nightmare of poor character development, ridiculous padding and plot conveniences that are an insult to all. Rather than the writers from the original film coming back, the job was given to Steve Oedekerk. Oedekerk, best known perhaps for his comedy shorts involving thumbs (Bat Thumb, Frankenthumb, The Blair Thumb, Thumbtanic, you get the idea), is possessed of a comedic sensibility that’s based on absurdly broad strokes and easy stereotypes. That’s not to say he’s never funny, because he can be, but it often comes from a cheap place. As you’d expect from the title, When Nature Calls is cut from the same cloth. There’s just no kind of logic or sense anywhere, precisely because of this cheap laugh strategy, so holes just crop up everywhere. For example, Ventura is promised a $20,000 payment to find the bat, which he does consider. If that kind of money can sway him, where in the hell did he get a full-size robot rhino? That probably cost quite a bit of money in itself. Did he build it? Did he steal it? For another example, when Ventura compares two different darts that he was shot with, he sees, just by looking at them, that they were made from two different types of tree that come from different parts of the jungle… how does he know that? He only arrived a few days ago, which is hardly enough time to acquaint himself with indigenous trees, let alone their specific locations. Hell, the guy he was with was a native tribesman who had lived there his whole life, and he didn’t see this. For yet another example, when a huge herd of various animals storm the consulate, there’s lions and elephants and monkeys and a skunk… wait, what? A skunk? In Africa? No, no, this is just ridiculous. Skunks are found in Indonesia or the Americas, not anywhere in the Dark Continent. These are just the small examples. A bigger one would be: why was Ventura hired in the first place? He actually does ask this question, and is told that he was brought in to give the appearance of an effort to try and stop the war. Couldn’t you just have hired someone else? Someone not as good, but easier to find? They literally went to the ends of the Earth to find the guy, when it would have been easy enough to say, “Well, we tried to find him, but he’s nowhere to be found. However, we do have the number for this other guy, Buck Michaelson: Animal Locator…” These points, and so many more besides, just show that Oedekerk really screwed the pooch on the story here… and I didn’t even mention the inane Cliffhanger parody as the film’s opener.

It’s also borne of a great misunderstanding of the comedy coming from this kind of character that made the first film work. Ace Ventura is a ridiculous character, deliberately the most outlandish and insane person in any room. The kind of guy that makes everyone uncomfortable because he makes everywhere he goes his own personal playground. He doesn't fit in anywhere, so he can go anywhere. As such, trying to make him the centre of a ‘fish-out-of-water’ type story puts everything off to a very bad start. The character is further confused by making him more aggressive in his love of animals, physically attacking people who so much as think of mistreating animals. It might as well be called Ace Ventura: Agent of PETA. The character gets muddled even further by taking this well-established lover of all animals and making him both terrified and disgusted by the creature he’s been brought in to find. This isn’t interesting character depth or a great flaw to overcome… this is bullshit. This is character so inconsistent that it borders on schizophrenia.

Now for direction. Originally, Tom DeCerchio was put in the director’s chair, but he left shortly after shooting began for reasons that I don’t know. As such, the duties were handed to… Steve Oedekerk. Sadly, his direction is as ham-fisted as his writing. Rather than adopt Shadyac’s uninspired, but at least well-suited approach to the first film, Oedekerk’s camera tries to grab cheap laughs anywhere along the way ('look at the silly monkey'), and he seems to have given instructions to his actors to the effect of, “Bigger! More reaction! I don’t want to see a hint of nuance on that screen!” And the editing rhythm and continuity is a joke.

Jim Carrey gives just as committed a performance here as he does in the first film, but this is really for two reasons: 1) He is a professional; and 2) He was paid an absolute shitload of money to be in it. Since the first film came out, his career skyrocketed. He didn’t have to do this film and, in fact, it would probably have been advisable to not bother. However, as I said, his fee was colossal – $5 million. Who wouldn’t say yes to that?

The rest of the cast, regrettably, are strewn with great actors who are inexplicably lowering themselves to be in this nonsense. Simon Callow, Ian McNeice, Bob Gunton and Sophie Okonedo are all fine actors, each of them above this. It’s more understandable in Okonedo’s case, since this was her second feature and it was at least a high profile gig for her, so she did well from it. However, Oedekerk’s broad sensibility means they spend most of their time in stereotype mode, which just makes them look a bit uncomfortable. McNeice suffers from this the most.

Where the original outing was merely silly and pretty harmless, Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls is insultingly stupid. The script is so full of holes you could put the Nostromo through them, the direction is clumsy and desperate, the whole premise is completely misconceived and it’s simply nowhere near as funny as the first one. More than that, there is a shocking waste of talent onscreen, too. This was nothing but a cheap grasp for more money on the back of a film that, against all odds, did quite well. Goddamn, I’m depressed now.

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