Comedy Through Inappropriate Behaviour
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994)
Screenplay by Jack Bernstein (also story), Tom Shadyac (also director), Jim Carrey
EXT. CAMP'S MANSION - NIGHT Ace and Melissa climb an impressive stairway leading to Camp's mansion. MELISSA I'm really going out on a limb here, Ventura. Camp's social events are strictly A-list. ACE (a la Love Connection) 'Well, Chuck… the date started off good, but just before we got to the party, she seemed to tense up.' Melissa rolls her eyes, then taps a huge door knocker. MELISSA I swear, if you do anything to embarrass me in front of Camp… ACE You mean like this? Ace starts doing a spastic body convulsion. Just then a bald-headed butler, who looks a little like Gavin McCloud, opens the door. Ace doesn't notice until Melissa hits him with her purse. ACE Owwwe!!! He sees the butler. ACE Oh, hi Captain Stubing. Melissa storms in, already pissed.
In the opening of the film we see a delivery man (visually similar to UPS) delivering a package. What’s wrong with this picture is that he’s kicking the package around like football with the constant sound of things breaking in the box while the delivery man greets everyone in the street with extra politeness. People around him look on, confused. We know that, normally, delivery staff treat packages with great care and not drop them deliberately while this guy does the kicking in public, having fun and no remorse, which is why it instantly grabs our interest. Soon we find out that the delivery guy is our main character – pet detective Ace Ventura and he’s using the delivery as a disguise to steal a dog to take it back to its owner.
In most scenes where Ace Ventura behaves inappropriately, we know that he’s doing the right thing. The embarrassment and awkwardness we sense comes from the situation (from our knowledge of what the appropriate behaviour would or should be) and from identifying with the embarrassed and shocked characters around him who are not aware of Ventura’s intentions. There also some dramatic irony here as we often know more than the bystanders. The tone of the story remains lighthearted because there’s no malice behind Ventura’s goofiness.
What do we find out during this opening sequence: Ace Ventura is a pet detective, he uses his brain rather than muscle to trick a suspect and retrieve the dog; he obviously loves animals, and he’s passionate about his job. The delivery disguise is only relevant in the sense that it’s part of doing detective work, but the filmmakers have really had some fun with the delivery itself.
The humour in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective doesn’t just come from Jim Carrey acting goofy and comedic dialogue (with humorous opinions and reversals) but goes a lot deeper, taking advantage of the viewers’ expectations of a social situation, mixing embarrassment and brazenness. Ventura’s behaviour is bold – he knows what he’s doing and he doesn’t care what people around him think or if they might misunderstand him or criticise him. While rooting for Ace we can at the same time identify with the embarrassed onlookers who think he’s being outrageous.