If “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” signaled the arrival of Jim Carrey as a formidable comic talent, then “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls” can only affirm his stagnation.
Carrey simply has neglected to seek higher ground during the two years’ grace period between that first “Ace Ventura” and this more worldly - or Third-Worldly, as it were - sequel. He is merely sillier, noisier, more vulgar, and overall more annoying than he appeared in the No. 1 “Ace” and “The Mask.”
And those enhanced qualities no doubt will sell several million tickets.
Carrey, fancying his title character some kind of kindred spirit to that globetrotting world-beater James Bond, evidently inspired screenwriter and pinch-hitter director Steve Oedekerk to send Ace Ventura to Africa for the present adventure. As Ventura, a private detective specializing absurdly in the recovery of missing animals, Carrey is summoned this time to retrieve the missing sacred animal of an African tribe.
In the first film, Ace Ventura was summoned to retrieve the missing mascot of a football team. Sounds more like a global remake, here, than a sequel. Next, perhaps, Ace will time-trip back to some prehistoric age to recapture the Cro-Magnon tribe’s missing pet mastodon.
The new film’s African setting (largely represented by Texas locations) is unfortunate, raising an issue of bigotry and racial caricature that might have been innocent back in all those old jungle-jive “Tarzan” movies; there’s no such excuse today. Carrey’s episodes of “going native,” as a means of fitting in with the local population, are too spastic to be humorous and too condescending to come off as affectionate spoofing.
Carrey was funny back when he was hungry and working at about this same level, with not such a shrill tone. The first “Ace” was a modest affair, and no one expected it to take off with the paying customers. The new “Ace” is an immodest wallow in extravagance, with its budget in the $50 million neighborhood and its self-indulgent mugging by the star.
In the supporting ranks, Simon Callow has some nice moments as a stereotypically loathsome English consul. Maynard Eziashi fires off some transcendent ad-libs as a member of the tribe’s royal family. Sophie Okonedo makes a convincing enough romantic interest, and Bob Gunton is memorable as the eccentric proprietor of a safari park.
Maybe expecting Jim Carrey to live up to his promise is like expecting McDonald’s to start making a really great, old-fashioned hamburger.
We know they’ve got the kitchen facilities and the talent - but why mess with commercial success?
And so it must go with Jim Carrey. The new “Ace” isn’t nature’s urgent call.
It’s the harsh command of the box office, demanding a big seller - and the heck with all else.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “ACE VENTURA: WHEN NATURE CALLS” Location: East Sprague, Newport and Coeur d’Alene cinemas Credits: Directed by Steve Oedekerk; starring Jim Carrey, Sophie Okonedo and Simon Callow Running time: 1:31 Rating: PG-13