Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, pet-lover Kate Erbland explores dew claws and funny bones with Tom Shadyac’s commentary for Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.
Before he directed Patch Adams – I’m pretty sure that little nugget of information will rear its head again further down this article – Tom Shadyac had a strong hand in making Jim Carrey the man he is today. Shadyac directed Ace Venture: Pet Detective, the film that essentially launched Carrey’s career into super stardom and eventually landed him a few $20m paying jobs. Shadyac, on the other hand, was easy to get for the film’s commentary track.
And that’s what we’re doing for this week’s Commentary Commentary. Here’s hoping it’s loaded with deep analysis on the character and the slaps in the face Shadyac had to give Carrey in order for the performance to bleed through. Who am I kidding? There’s probably plenty of laughter and talking about the first time he saw Carrey talking out of his ass.
Let’s find out, shall we?
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994)
Commentators: Tom Shadyac (director, writer), and a talking ass that evidently won’t shut up.
- Both Shadyac and Carrey felt that Ace Ventura: Pet Detective could serve as the end of their respective film careers, such as they were in 1993 while filming. Shadyac notes they made a choice to go big with this film as indicated by the change of film speed and the weird angles in the opening sequence. He believes it paid off. The movie made $107 million worldwide. Sounds like it paid off.
- The black eyes Randall ‘Tex” Cobb (the gruff man in the first sequence) have were actually not make-up. He showed up to the set with them. Shadyac assumes these were from a couple of bar brawls the actor/badass had been in.
- For the theme, conducted by Ira Newborn, Shadyac wanted something akin to the “Peter Gunn Theme.” It was Carrey’s idea to give it a “thrasher metal” edge. Much of this didn’t make it into the final film, as test audiences found it too harsh. Also, the band shown in the club later, Cannibal Corpse, was shown much more in earlier cuts of the film, but audiences found their music to be too uncomfortable to sit through long stretches of it.
- The Ace Ventura character went through several iterations before filming began. Shadyac likened the early ideas to a Fletch type of detective. Early in the film’s development the studio wanted Rick Moranis for the part and reached out to him about it. Carrey, who has a co-writing credit alongside Shadyac, helped shape the character to fit him after he came on board. Shadyac also explains much of Carrey’s improvisation on set helped create the over-the-top sense about Ace.
- While explaining how Carrey’s early delivery was very flat like a Chevy Chase/Fletch tone, Shadyac is completely sidelined by Rebecca Ferratti, the sexy client in the beginning of the film. “Beautiful, beautiful girl who came in and gave us a great job.” Shadyac, of course, is referring to the fine ACTING job the former Playboy playmate brought to the film.
- Back to Carrey’s “voice for the movie,” Shadyac talks about seeing Carrey perform on stage one night. He liked how the comedian introduced himself to the audience, how it was like a light switch turning on, and he had Carrey use this voice for Ace.
- Pet detectives really do exist. Shadyac did research on this before going to work on Ace Ventura. “We’re trying to establish a touch of credibility in this insane world we’ve created.” Evidently pet detectives really do find their profession to be very technical and science-based. Kind of like a barista.
- The setup of the albino pigeon was originally in an early scene where Ace visits a friend of his who owns a pet shop. The scene was cut and the information it gave was moved to the doorway scene between Ace and his landlord, Satan. Shadyac is always looking at what he can cut out of his films to keep the pace going. He has a “when in doubt, leave it out” attitude towards comedy in particular. He also notes the director’s cut of Ace Ventura is actually shorter than what was shown in theaters.
- Most of the Miami Dolphins in the film, especially the montage halfway through the film when Ace is inspecting each of their rings, were all played by real players. Shadyac mentions Jeff Uhlenhake, who plays the Dolphin at the urinals, now plays for “his team,” the Washington Redskins.
- “If the audience is questioning your plot I think they’re a little bit removed from your comedy.” Shadyac doesn’t think everyone agrees, but he notes how hard they worked to make Ace Ventura an interesting mystery as well as a way-out-there comedy. He feels the fairly tight plot serves the comedy and vice versa.
- Ace Ventura cost around $11m to make. “I’m not sure if I’m supposed to give that out, but I just did.” Tom Shadyac. Rebel.
- The Heinz Getwellvet scene where Ace is posing as the dolphin’s trainer was cut from the film for its theatrical run. Shadyac felt it hurt the film’s pace at the time, but later changed his mind. Now, the scene is intact on the DVD and every time the film plays on TV.
- The talking out of the ass begins. “I’m gonna blame Jim Carrey,” says Shadyac. Carrey had improvised this one day while on the set of In Living Color. He and Shadyac felt it would work in the scene where Ace is talking to Emilio (Tone Loc!)at the police station. Shadyac doesn’t remember a lot of walk-outs during test screening, but this scene certainly caused one of them.
- This one is hard to believe, but Shadyac said it, so it’s going down here: The director’s brother is a lawyer who had a judge approach him after court one day. The judge asked him if he was the Shadyac whose brother directed Ace Venture. The brother said yes, and the judge proceeded to turn around and begin talking out of his ass Jim Carrey-style. That man is now a Supreme Court Justice (not really).
- According to Shadyac, Carrey is always trying to come up with catchphrases or cute quips that might become popular. Lines like “Alrighty then” or “Holy testicle Tuesday” that have become quotable lines from the film were crafted by Carrey to be just that. The little hand gesture he gives before leaving the police station was also an attempt at getting something to catch on. It didn’t.
- As expected, there were concerns, mostly with Carrey’s performance, from Morgan Creek after watching dailies. They wondered if or even when they would ever see the “human” side of Ace. As Shadyac explains, he and his production team understood the cartoon nature of Ace but also recognized how sweet and loyal the character was, especially when dealing with animals.
- It was very important for the character of Ron Camp to be played by a non-comedian. Shadyac cast Udo Kier because of how serious he would take the part. Walking with a cane was Kier’s idea.
- Ace Ventura: Pet Detective had been a script by Jack Bernstein. Morgan Creek had the rights to the script for three years but could never come up with a way to get it shot and completed. Still, they thought of the project as a “Fletch for the ‘90s.” Shadyac, a struggling writer/director at the time, saw the potential in the idea and took home every draft of the script Morgan Creek had. He realized early they needed a stronger antagonist than what Bernstein had written. Also the AFC Championship ring being a huge clue was nowhere in the early drafts.
- According to Shadyac – as well as the history of celebrity – Tone Loc was the biggest name in the film at the time. The director wanted to find someone with credibility to pair Jim Carrey with. The “Wild Thing” rapper fit the ticket. It should also be noted the last film featuring Tone Loc to get a theatrical release was Titan A.E. in 2000. He also played Dave on an episode of “Yes, Dear” in 2005. These are facts.
- Ray Finkle in the team picture is played by Sean Young wearing a wig and fake mustache. Shadyac notes you can tell it’s Sean from the frail arms, but, from the neck up, she makes a very convincing man.
- There were certain animals on set that Courtney Cox is terrified of. The monkey is one of these. Shadyac claims that the sex scene between her and Carrey with all the animals in the room looking on is the most uncomfortable sex scene put to film.
- There were a number of small scenes cut while Ace is looking for Ray Finkle. He originally went to a gas station and bar in the town where Finkle lived. Dialogue was added to the scene between Ace and Ray Finkle’s parents to cover the scenes that were cut. Shadyac also mentions how difficult it was to find Finkle’s house. The house used was an abandoned house that had been beaten up by Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
- There were a few moments during the scene at the Finkle house where Carrey made hand puppets with the light from the movie projector. Shadyac felt it was too late in the film, that the mystery was getting too involved for him to be making jokes such as this, so they were cut. This gag would appear, though, in the sequel, When Nature Calls.
- Shadyac explains a subplot that was to unfold in the gas station scenes that were cut. Initially, an attendant was going to kill himself. He had a gun in his mouth when Ace pulled in the first time. Ace convinced the man not to kill himself, but later, when Ace went back to the gas station, an ambulance was in the parking lot, and there was a blood splotch on the wall. Shadyac also mentions they found that anything dark wouldn’t work with the rest of the comedy. Shadyac clearly doesn’t understand the trauma created from a cute, innocent dolphin being kidnapped by a transgender field goal kicker.
- Another cut scene came after Ace’s car flips chasing Dan Marino’s kidnappers. Ace is knocked out and dreams the albino pigeon lands on the hood of his car. He grabs the pigeon and begins dancing and singing, “I caught the white pigeon.” Suddenly thousands of pigeons appear and attack Ace as he tries to flee. They dismember him, and Ace wakes up. Like the cut scene with the gas station attendant, this was cut because Shadyac felt it was too dark.
- In the scene where Ace is divulging everything he’s learned about Ray Finkle to Lt. Einhorn, Shadyac points out on Einhorn’s desk are two apples and a banana. Such obvious subtext, but no one ever said Shadyac was Lars Von Trier.
- Shadyac mentions the poor reviews Ace Ventura received upon its release. “We’re getting close to 90% trashing.” The director notes he’s not sure the critics got what they were going for. That’s it. That’s the only defense Shadyac has for his film. Apparently the talking ass says everything that needs be said.
- At the 59:17 mark: “You’ve probably noticed by now that I haven’t talked a great deal about the technical aspects of filmmaking.” Shadyac goes on to talk about how he’s learning the craft, how he came out of the screenwriting side of the business, and how he didn’t go to Hollywood with aspirations of becoming a director. He was writing jokes for Bob Hope at the time of making Ace Ventura, and the he stumbled into directing after being an acting coach. He realized that, due to his lack of a formal education in film, he didn’t know about lighting or framing a shot. He got assurance from people, probably studio execs, who told him he didn’t need to know all these things to make a successful film. “All you have to know is what you want, and then you have to hire the people that are technically trained and can get it for you. Don’t let the technical side of film making intimidate you.”
- Going back to the editing side of things, Shadyac mentions that during test screening, certain laughs were so big that other aspects of the film, slower scenes or laughs that weren’t quite as big, suffered. Many of these smaller laughs and slower paced scenes were either chopped up or edited out completely to keep the movie moving quickly.
- Obviously, The Crying Game spoof wasn’t in the screenplay, as Ace Ventura was filming at the time The Crying Game came out in 1993. Using the music from the film and spoofing it so blatantly was a last-minute decision near the end of filming.
- Sean Young herself isn’t a very good kicker. Pete Stoyanovich, placekicker for the Dolphins at the time, filled in as her character in the reverse shot of her kicking the football up and out of the hole in the warehouse. According to Shadyan, Stoyanovich hit the hole on pretty much every take. Good track record. Unlike journalists trying to remember how to spell “Stoyanovich.”
- “…hopefully when I work with Robin Williams in the future…” This is a small part of a larger section where Shadyac talks about working with actors. This is also an indication that this commentary track was recorded shortly before Shadyac began filming Patch Adams. It’s only brought up here to honor a prior commitment made in the introduction. The less said about Patch Adams, the better.
- The dolphin in the film is played by a Sea World dolphin. Shadyac notes how difficult it was training the dolphin to take the gun away from Einhorn. Evidently, the creature knew it was an instrument of violence. They eventually trained the dolphin to do the trick, but again, on the day of filming, the dolphin froze up. They had to go with plan B, having Ace slap the gun out of her hand.
- “Their characters got beheaded,” says Shadyac as he’s bringing up another instance where Ace Ventura originally went much darker. He’s referring to Einhorn’s two goons. The scene was filmed as is, but when Ace lets go of the hook that hits them each in the head, it knocks their heads completely off. Ace then wipes blood off the hook and says something about telling his attorney there was no intent. Again, cut for clear reasons.
- The director notes the surrealism involved in picking out a prosthetic penis. Yeah. P.T. Anderson had that problem, too.
- After the success of Ace Ventura, Shadyac was offered over 150 movies and got calls from every major player in Hollywood to get him on their next feature film. It goes without saying that the same thing happened to Carrey. “So there is hope, gang. Just hang in there. If you have that basic belief in yourself and can put up with a lot of ups and downs, it can work.” Fine words to close us out.
Best in Commentary
“The idea of the movie is stupid. Let’s face it. A pet detective is stupid. The on-the-nose way to play it is he’s bumbling and forgetful and clumsy. We decided to make Jim the coolest guy in the world.”
“No one can hump the air like Jim Carrey.”
As Shadyac notes himself in the commentary, he doesn’t really talk much about the technical side of things with Ace Ventura. Most of his commentary is about character and story, all equally as insightful as getting into the lighting and framing side of things. Also, Shadyac seems a nice, jovial fellow, and this comes through in his commentary here.
He feels happy, excited about this movie he’s made. Sometimes exuberance can make up for a lack of skill or technical education. Shadyac might not have proven this with much of his career or even Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, for that matter. However, it all comes through in the way he speaks here.