Guilty-Pleasure Movie: Ace Ventura: Pet Detective—A Master Class in Character Building

I could never claim that Ace Ventura: Pet Detective is my guilty pleasure as I regard it as a masterpiece in comedic acting.  Just as Peter Sellers in The Party or Jack Lemmon in The Apartment did, Jim Carrey embodies his character’s truth to the utmost, making his unique cadence and sharp mannerisms entirely believable.  Any individual who has taken an acting course in their lives knows that acting, in a minute nutshell, is behavior.  The main difference between the crafts of dramaturgy and comedic acting, as Robin Williams once stated, is attention to detail.  In comedic acting the humor derives from the actor’s acutely specific application towards credibly bringing to life this newly formed and original human being.

Ace Ventura is a nonstop roller coaster ride of laughter from the opening package delivery scene to the closing beat down of a football bird mascot.  This must be rightly attributed to Jim Carrey’s serious work as an actor.  When interviewed by Jim Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio, Carrey stated that his method, yes method, for constructing Ace Ventura was exactly the same as Anthony Hopkins’ preparation in creating Hannibal Lecter.  Hannibal was a cross between a reptile, in this case a crocodile, and a tarantula.  Carrey based Ace’s physicality and inner life on a sharp-witted tropical bird such as a cockatiel or a parakeet.  His walk, quick lateral head-and-neck movements, hair style, brightly colored floral clothing, and use of sunflower seeds as a snack, are all a thought-out emulation of a tropical bird.  Carrey formed an innovative character that the camera had never seen before, all through his bright-eyed imagination.  Jim Carrey’s creativity did not stop or was not limited to his own birdman character.  He surpassed the boundaries of a tropical birdman to a film-loving-and-quoting animal connoisseur and detective.   

Tom Shadyac’s film is laced with Ace imitating well-known film characters and scenes.  He also details Ace’s surroundings with animals and pet food, going as far as filling his car ashtray with multi-colored dog chow.  The film does not contain one fill-in scene and Shadyac was smart enough to acknowledge Carrey’s brilliance and allow him to carry the film—no pun intended.  The camera work, for the most part, was quite objective, observant, and minimalistic, giving Carrey time and space to dance his magic upon us.  Just as a smart sports coach would, Shadyac adapted his strategy to his players, and not the other way around.  Credit must also be given to him for having the courage to take so many risks.

The next time someone states that comedy does not hold the valor that drama or tragedy does, remind them of the genius that is Jim Carrey—an actor who delves deep into the psyche of his characters and takes on roles as if they were his last—living and behaving far from his quotidian self.  Hats off to Jim Carrey, a true artist who taught me a great lesson about the acting craft.
By Marco Agnolucci                    

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