Sunday, July 21, 2019

"Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls" - The Best Kind of Comedy Sequel: a Dumb One.

*As always, I write these articles under the assumption that you’ve seen the movie, so...SPOILERS.

After revisiting Nothing to Lose, I decided to watch all three Steve Oedekerk movies I own. So this month I’m going with Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (Kung Pow: Enter the Fist is up next). As with most comedy sequels, When Nature Calls is typically looked at as the lesser of the two Jim Carrey movies in the franchise. I like the first one much more, too, but I obviously still like this movie. I admire how intentionally stupid it is, and while my sense of humor may have changed a bit since middle school, a part of me will always find this movie funny. Especially that part with the rhino...

A comedy sequel is usually dumber than the original.

The Ace Ventura franchise is particularly suited to stupidity, but in general comedy sequels follow that rule. Major League II and Anchorman 2 (just to pick a couple from my collection) and goofier and dumber than their first installments. I can see the reasoning behind this; filmmakers feel obligated to one-up the previous movie to appease audiences. With When Nature Calls, that meant Ace had to go from helping find a beloved NFL mascot to becoming a monk then travelling to Africa to find a sacred bat to prevent tribal genocide. The stakes are definitely higher, even though the tone is noticeably more cartoonish. 

It’s hard to fault filmmakers for taking this route. Comedy sequels are generally weaker than their originals, and there’s really nothing that can be done to prevent it. Comedies work because we’re introduced to new characters, and we get to experience something new with no expectations. A sequel has to repeat certain elements, but to a heightened degree. So when Ace ridiculously barrel rolls a vehicle into a parking spot and proclaims, “Like a glove!” we don’t laugh so much as acknowledge it with a smile, as if to say, “I remember when he did that in the first film, and this time is was crazier.” It’s not funny; it’s a callback. It’s fan service we don’t need or want. 

This applies to comedy in general. Do you want to see a stand-up comedian perform the same routine year after year? If so, then comedy sequels are for you. For the rest of us, these repeated moments are what we have to deal with while hoping to see something new and different. 

In a lot of ways When Nature Calls breaks this trend. I can’t think of a much different setting and set of circumstances for such a film without completing changing the character. Yes, Ace is still looking for an important animal, and he goes about his search in annoyingly funny ways, but this is still very different from the first movie. Plus, Ace is the only returning character, and the previous film’s plot is not even referenced. 

Making your main character crazier and injecting him into a completely different setting is probably the best way to make a sequel to Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. The other route is to just copy the first film. Sure, that will appeal to a certain type of fan who simply finds humor in recognizing shit they’ve seen before that they thought was funny, but to most people that would be an unfunny waste of time.

I suppose the major factor that would land people on the negative side of this movie is the influence of writer/director Steve Oedekerk. Oedekerk’s sense of humor is zanier and more childlike (while also hovering in R-rated territory somehow) than the first film. This means that Ace has gone from annoyingly eccentric (which is usually just an act he uses as a distraction to work the case) to unhinged maniac (which has nothing to with working the case). 

Perhaps I’m giving the first film a bit too much credit. There are moments when Ace is being stupid for no purpose and no one’s amusement but his own (when he pretends to be Captain Kirk while checking the dolphin tank comes to mind), but for the most part he is a driven detective trying to solve the case. 

I guess I can some the difference up best in comparing the two fancy party scenes in each movie. In the first film, Ace, who loves to fuck with rich, uptight folk, is a general weirdo/asshole to nearly everyone he comes across. He makes fun of how people talk, he acts insane to the overly serious door man, he eats in a disgusting manner, he grabs the arm of the violinist (still one of my favorite small moments from that movie), and he eventually causes a major scene when he emerges from the bathroom completely soaked. That is all very cartoonish, but while he was there he was searching for evidence. 

In When Nature Calls, Ace also attends a fancy gathering, but it’s amped up. He covers his face in food and is a general asshole, but things escalate when he abruptly knocks out the Monopoly Guy to make a point about wearing fur. (This is also a favorite part of mine.) He’s still going after the rich and uptight in the society, but it is not meant to serve as a distraction as he works the case. That might seem like a minor difference, but it encapsulates the fundamental difference between the two, and it’s what makes the first film a beloved comedy to many and the second film a tolerable, silly sequel. 

All of this is to say this is the way to do it if you’re going to make a comedy sequel. I like Major League II for this very reason. Admit that you can’t repeat the first film and just get stupid with it. And who better to get stupid than Ace Ventura? I prefer the first film, but I can’t fault a comedy sequel that intentionally got this stupid. Part of that is thanks to Carrey’s usual over-the-top performance, but it’s mainly due to Steve Oedekerk’s involvement. And I’ll go into much more detail about his particular style of comedy next month.

The rushed sequel featuring insensitive treatment of indigenous people had trouble behind the scenes. Who knew?

Actually, I had no idea there were issues behind the scenes of this movie, but yeah, looking back it should have been obvious (in my defense, you don’t really think about this stuff when you’re in middle school). You can find all the details here, but the short version is that Carrey didn’t really want to make the movie and was sick for a lot of it, the original director was fired early on, they were worries about the depiction of the African tribes, etc. 

The Carrey stuff interested me a lot, especially when I realized that this was his only sequel until he did that disappointing Dumb and Dumber sequel a few years back. For all his goofiness, it’s fair to say that Carrey has never been interested in repeating himself. But something that cracked me up, and made a lot of sense, was his objection to Ace’s fear of bats. It didn’t make sense to him, and looking back at it, he’s completely right. Why would Ace, who was established in the first film as a lover of all animals, hate bats? Sure, they’re creepy to most people, but (do I have to write it?) Ace is not most people. Carrey’s suggestion to fix this was to have Ace be allergic to bats instead, and I cannot understand why they didn’t go that route instead. 

And the treatment of Africa is pretty bad. Every cliche you can think of is used, but at least they went with fictional tribes and even a fictional country. But the fact that it seems to still be a British colony is odd, to say the least. Definitely not the best idea for a setting, even in the mid-’90s, but it wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be when I rewatched it. And without the Africa setting, how else do we get Ace in a mechanical rhino in a hot savannah? 

The more I think about everything regarding this movie, it’s a minor miracle that When Nature Calls was ever completed, much less that it turned out to be kind of funny. Maybe this is just nostalgia talking, and this is a garbage movie that I should never watch again, much less own. But then again, that rhino scene is magical.

Why do I own this?

I have a whole section of my collection devoted to comedies I loved as a kid, and this deserves to remain a part of it.

Random Thoughts 

Why was the plane's animal cargo at the beginning a single raccoon? Why did they have it? Where were they taking it?

As a Dolphins fan, I loved that the first film factored the team into the story in a major way. That written, I like that this movie just ignores that any of that happened and goes with a completely unrelated plot. 

I get that they were trying to one-up the "like a glove" parking scene from the first movie, but Ace taking the vehicle off-road on the way to the consulate makes no sense at all. I know, I know, why am I expecting sense from this movie? But Ace in the first film was just an eccentric, goofy guy who liked to fuck with people. He's a straight up cartoon character this time around. Maybe I'm remembering it differently, though. I'll have to revisit the first film soon.

Man, "spank you, spank you very much" was a daily quote in middle school thanks to this movie.

The Monopoly guy stuff is still funny. The sudden punch to the face is great.

"Bumblebee tuna."

"He's good. With my help, he could be the best."

The spit stuff was funny at first, but it's pretty damn disgusting when they leave the chief's hut covered in it.

So even if Ace finds a fingerprint in the sacred hut, what is he going to do with it? Would any of the tribesmen or poachers have their prints on file? I highly doubt it.

"Kind of hot in these rhinos."

The rhino sequence justifies this film's existence. The birthing part is amazing, both for Carrey's insane performance and the tourist family's reaction.

Bob Gunton went from Shawshank to getting interrogated by an eyeball-touching Ace Ventura.

Speaking of eyeball-touching, I started copying that scene at school after watching this, sound effects and all (I was very popular…).

Once again, why do I expect logic, but why did the poachers leave Ace alive? And why would they tie up his monkey with him? Wouldn't they try to sell it instead?

This is a very light-hearted movie considering there's a potential genocide of an entire tribe at stake.

I completely forgot that Ace has an out of body experience to solve the case.

I also forgot that the villain ends up getting ape-raped.

When exactly did Ace bang the princess? Sure, he masturbated after seeing her naked, but there wasn't much follow up to that.

But back to that ape-rape. What a truly horrifying end for the villain. And when it cuts to the bushes shaking, there are no screams. Is he dead already? Is he passed out? Is he enjoying it? The implications are terrifying.


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