Jim Carreygoofball genius, or yet another sign that our society is plummeting into the pits of hell?
The answer probably lies somewhere in between, but you won't find it in Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls. In his first sequel, Carrey eyes the crown of slapstick kings past and drools, slack-jawed. With the names of Lewis, Winters and Williams on his lips, Carrey mostly rides his own coattails to an uninspired pratfall that does little to improve his image as the reigning master of brainless comedy.
Yet somehow I keep thinking that there's more to Jim Carrey than just talking butts and exclamations of "All righty then." Could there be, in his Stretch Armstrong body and rubberized face, the soul of a great film comedian? With his mastery of physical sight gags, could he indeed be walking in the footsteps of past masters? Is he our Keaton? Our Chaplin?
Most horrifyingly, he probably iswhich says more about our own state of pop culture decline than Carrey's actual talent. He is a walking Mixmaster of our own trash culture, spontaneously spewing out our worst TV clichés, allowing us to laugh at our own susceptibility to crappy entertainment. In Nature, he swaggers about like William Shatner on steroids, declaiming every line as if it were a Shakespearean soliloquy. He has no natural facial expressions, just as there are none on television. His reactions to the most minute plot twist or piece of dialogue are exaggerated a hundred fold. He is the living TV id, able to instantly contort himself into characters we've seen hundreds of times before, then blow them up out of proportion.
Carrey is at his best when he takes an oft-seen plot device and catapults it beyond the pale. When, for instance, he must face off against a master warrior in Nature, he smugly preens and puffs as if he already knows he's going to winjust as every leading man in the same scene has done before him. Of course, he gets his ass kickedin a multitude of human cartoon tormentsbut it's his reaction that's funny. Watching him stand screaming in surprise, clutching air like Captain Kirk in a torture chamber, we laugh at his overacting, and the fact that we've seen bad acting like this before.
Yes, just as his revered predecessors did, Jim Carrey embodies the culture he lives in. Unfortunately, it's a pretty damn shallow video culture.
On a purely entertainment level, it gets worse. In Nature, Carrey is forced to do his shtick in a vacuum, rendering his gags toothless and tired. Even by stupid comedy standards, Nature is nearly plotless, and what's there is numbingly unimaginative. The pet detective is called in to an African nation to locate a kidnapped white bat in order to avoid an impending battle between two tribes. Yes indeed. And his comedic foils are so bland, so predictable, so jokeless, that Carrey's antics rebound off the cardboard characters and fall to the floor with nary a bounce.
Perhaps in desperation, perhaps because he thinks he must "push the boundaries" of comedy, Carrey resorts to gags so tasteless they're not even remotely funny. In one scene, not only does he shove his arm elbow-deep down a native's throat, he ejects a baby from a mother's womb by gut-punching her. Har, har. Even the non-politically correct may be offended by using African natives as dumb, animal-like objects.
Of course, tasteless jokes are why people show up in droves to see a Jim Carrey movie; the traditions of slapstick comedy are not their first consideration. But even on that score, most of Nature's gags are weak, relying more on Carrey's built-in reputation than on a strong set-up. How many times can we watch him wreck a car while parking it and declare "Like a glove!" before it gets really boring? Once.
Finally, even the basic charm of the Ace Ventura character has turned. In the first movie, Ace was childlike, a grown man behaving like a boy unleashed, with an endearing mission to protect all animals. Demented, yes, but actually quite likable. In Nature, however, he's just an arrogant jerk who mocks everyone and uses animals to fight off his enemies. He's gone from being a geeky schoolboy to a pinhead frat dick. From such a character, timeless comedy is not made.
Jim Carrey can keep riding his shtick to the bank as long as people enjoy stupid jokes. Whether or not his act will withstand the test of time is still an open question. Me, I just wish Peewee Herman would come back.