Tom Shadyac is the director of the original Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, a 1994 comedy starring Jim Carrey. In the 2000s, Shadyac sold most of his material possessions and donated most of the money he’d amassed during his career as a successful filmmaker. He moved out of his Los Angeles Mansion, and distanced himself from movies altogether for many years. Were I in any way responsible for the genesis of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, I would probably have done the same thing.
If the movie were an obscure relic, relegated to the bargain bin of comedy history, I might be more inclined to look at it charitably. Unfortunately for me and the world at large, both Ace Ventura films were popular at the time of their release and made a shitload of money. I was lucky enough to be born after either one came out, so I wasn’t around for the heyday of the general public presumably enjoying, quoting, and discussing either of the two movies, but the simple fact of that not being universally true makes me kind of pissed off.
For the record, I’m not trying to knock Jim Carrey as an actor or a comedian. His particular brand of over-the-top physical comedy doesn’t irk me as much as it does some people, and occasionally it’s actually impressive. Watching Jim Carrey’s acting in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, for me, is like watching Olympic swimming. I’m not personally invested in it and I would never call myself a fan, but it’s kinda neat that the human body is capable of such things. The plot of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective concerns the kidnapping of the Miami Dolphins mascot, which is supposed to kick a football with its tail at an upcoming Super Bowl.
Said plot is just a framework for what Roger Ebert refers to as Ace’s “weird nerdy strangeness”, which involves him wearing a tutu, staring at someone in a urinal, and trespassing on a crime scene to flippantly provide his opinion. Ace gets a significant lead on the crime early on in the movie, when he finds a gem from a Super Bowl ring at the scene of the dolphin-napping, and realizes he just has to figure out which member of the Dolphins team from a particular year has a missing stone on their ring. The guilty party is indeed a member of the Dolphins team from that year, so the movie sorta spins its wheels a lot until it reaches its lame-brained twist.
I would say that I don’t like to get political when discussing fiction, but actually I love doing it and I do it all the time. So here we go: The first Ace Ventura: Pet Detective is hugely transphobic, in the ugliest and most typical way. First off, Sean Young is cast as the transgender character, if a role as retrograde as this can even be accurately described using the word “transgender”.
This is supposed to be a joke in and of itself, presumably on the grounds that an actual transgender woman would be unattractive, and since Sean Young isn’t, that constitutes a humorous reversal of expectations. I would’ve been irritated had that been as far as the movie went, but of course it fucking wasn’t. There has to be a scene where Ace realizes he almost had sex with a transgender woman, and is exaggeratedly disgusted. There has to be a scene where he “reveals her as a man”.
I didn’t say anything during the movie itself, because I was watching it with members of my family. To them, being offended by this scene constitutes being oversensitive. But it’s not just this one movie. It’s a whole pattern of comedy that is based on LGBT people, very frequently trans women, being perceived as inherently disturbing and gross.
Sometimes it’s very obvious, as in The Forty-Year-Old Virgin or Zoolander 2. Sometimes the bigotry is subtler or part of a brief joke, as in Bob’s Burgers or The Simpsons. But transphobic jokes in popular media haven’t gone away, and if people continue to keep their mouths shut because they’re afraid of being pegged as oversensitive, they never will. I’m a trans man, so even though I don’t experience transmisogyny, sometimes not saying anything is an issue of personal safety. If that’s not the case for you, please do trans people a favor and speak up.
Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, the 1995 sequel, is mostly set in Africa. I’m not sure where in Africa, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the movie never specifies. Ace is sent to recover a rare white bat sacred to an African tribe. The plot doesn’t actually relate to Africa or Africans, it’s simply a half-assed pastiche of racist movies that white Americans have made about those topics.
AVWNC could be construed as satirical if it made any commentary whatsoever. Anyway, the “African” tribe believes that the bat was stolen by a neighboring community, and intends to go to war with them. It turns out the bat was bat-napped (I really, really hate combining the species of animals with the word “kidnapped” and I hope I never have to again) by a rich hunter. Sorry for revealing the ending of Ace Venture: When Nature Calls.
Much of this movie consists of almost every character being sick of Ace Ventura’s obnoxious behavior, which is maybe supposed to indicate to the audience that the filmmakers are in on the joke, but instead is just a constant reminder that Ace is annoying as all get-out. I did not need help remembering that, and nobody ever has or will. AVWNC is basically Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, but more so.
It has bigger animals, it’s marginally cruder (by my estimation) and it has a more obviously ramshackle plot. It also made a lot more money. There’s not much more I can actually say about it, I think, so I’ll leave you with this tidbit: According to Wikipedia, the first film was developed for over six years before being made. I hope everyone involved spent most of those six years doing blow.