From its latrine-evoking imagery in the title, to its anally fixated humor (including a “birth” scene through the tail end of a rhino) Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls was strictly lowbrow fare. Yet there was something appealing about the film. In a word, Jim Carrey, the movie’s tour-de-farce star.
When Nature Calls proved to be a more-popular-than-the-original sequel to the lucrative Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994), also a starring vehicle for its Carrey-ismatic lead. It seemed the actor could do no wrong, having starred in a string of mid-90’s box office hits, from the three 1994 hits – the first Ace Ventura movie, Dumb and Dumber and The Mask - to his 1995 success in Batman Forever and Thanksgiving release When Nature Calls.
Written and directed by Steve Oedekerk, who worked with Jim Carrey writing sketches for him when he was an ensemble player on TV’s In Living Color, the unpretentious sequel saw the rubber-faced star Carrey-ing on in the role of the Miami pet detective, now an innocent abroad. Throughout the movie, the hyperkinetic star, who has been likened variously to Jerry Lewis, Steve Martin and even Laurel and Hardy, continues his frantic antics, adding’90s buzzwords to America’s lexicon, like “All righty, then” and “Spank you very much”. In the opening sequence, which plays homage to Sylvester Stallone’s Cliffhanger, Ace attempts to rescue a raccoon. After he fails, he heads for a Tibetan monastery (a tribute to Rambo III). From there, he’s summoned to Africa to search for a rare white bat and the picture becomes a salute to several African jungle-movie stereotypes.
The use of so many critters proved a challenge to animal maven Cathy Morrison of Birds and Animals Unlimited. Her company supplied and trained spike, Ace’s white-throated monkey companion, Boba the elephant and the animals Boba leads in Ace’s rescue at the end of the film – everything from giraffes, zebras, lions and water buffalo to three varieties of antelopes, ostriches, chimps and birds.
Sides were quickly drawn by critics, The Hollywood Reporter called the movie “remarkably layered with some nifty noir-complexity. Luckily the narrative does not muck up the real entertaining stuff: elephants, guano, horny apes, snitty Englishmen, farting and a mechanical rhino”. Critic, Roger Ebert wrote of the comic (in an on-line review for CompuServe), Carrey himself is so manic he makes Jerry Lewis look like a narcolepsy victim”. Still, Ebert found little to recommend the film, claiming “there aren’t enough laughs”, Richard Corliss of Time took the movie to task, saying “When Nature Calls in this awful sequel, don’t answer…[the film] would be a career ender for Carrey – except that a zillion people have seen it. Stop this folks. It’ll only encourage him”.
Apparently the public did encourage him. Carrey carved a niche for himself as Hollywood’s resident nut, with a price tag to match. His next two pictures reportedly paid him $20,000,000 each, as he continued to get rich and richer. CBS began airing “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” as a Saturday morning cartoon, while further live-acted sequels were on the Warner Bros. drawing boards. The franchise seemed destined to continue, lowbrow or not or, in the words of Ace Ventura, “All righty then!” Better make that, “Spank you very much!”