The film that launched Jim Carrey to fame, goofball comedy Ace Ventura: Pet Detective is regarded as something of a cult classic. But while its plot was considered fairly innocuous at the time, it doesn’t hold up especially well a quarter of a century on. In fact, its finale is now viewed as downright offensive.
Of course, viewed through the lens of today’s woke standards, many 1990s comedies contain material that would now no longer be considered acceptable. You only have to look at the vast amount of online pieces about Friends’ more questionable moments as proof. However, the first Ace Ventura movie is on a different level.
Indeed, in amongst all of Carrey’s rubber-faced antics and his adorable animal friends, the 1994 hit also contained an ending steeped in bad taste. And it sadly gives what is otherwise a feel-good movie a distinctly sour flavor. Here’s a look at the Hollywood comedy which would send the internet into meltdown if it was made today.
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective would perhaps have been a very different film had casting directors gone with their initial choice. Indeed, Rick Moranis was first offered the leading role but he turned it down. Bizarrely, Alan Rickman was then considered, as was Judd Nelson. And at one point, producers thought about changing the character’s gender and giving the part to Whoopi Goldberg.
In the end, a lesser-known funnyman was awarded the role. Of course, Jim Carrey wasn’t a complete newcomer. He’d been a fixture on the stand-up comedy circuit since the early 1980s and had been a member of acclaimed sketch show In Living Color for four years. But Ace Ventura was the first time he’d been chosen to front a major Hollywood motion picture.
In fact, Carrey did far more than just headline the movie. He was also encouraged to showcase his improvisational skills in front of the camera and he was credited with rewriting the script. He admitted to the Los Angeles Times newspaper in 1994, “I knew this movie was going to either be something that people really went for, or it was going to ruin me completely.”
And Carrey was delighted that the producers essentially gave him free rein. He added, “From the beginning of my involvement, I said that the character had to be rock ’n’ roll. He had to be the 007 of pet detectives. I wanted to be unstoppably ridiculous, and they let me go wild.”
Thankfully for Carrey, the producers’ faith in him paid off. Released in cinemas in February 1994, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective took over $12 million at the box office in its first weekend. It held the number one spot for two weeks and eventually went on to gross more than $107 million across the globe.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the film’s box office takings were boosted by many repeat viewers. Perhaps inevitably, the movie also became a massive smash on home video, selling an astonishing 4.2 million copies in less than a month. Of course, while Ace Ventura was a bona fide commercial hit, critics were less kind.
Legendary reviewer Roger Ebert wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper that he found the film a “long, unfunny slog through an impenetrable plot” in which Carrey acted like he was “being clocked on an Energy-O-Meter.” Ebert’s one-time screen partner was just as scathing. Indeed, Gene Siskel described Ace Ventura in the Chicago Tribune newspaper as “an appallingly bad movie, a certain candidate for worst of the year.”
Perhaps unfairly, Carrey later picked up a Razzie Award nomination in the Worst New Star category for his performance. However, he also received a few more desirable accolades. He was crowned Favorite Male Newcomer and Favorite Comedy Actor at the inaugural Blockbuster Entertainment Awards. And he won the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Award for Favorite Movie Actor.
So what is Ace Ventura: Pet Detective actually all about? Well, as you’d expect, the plot is pretty bonkers. Carrey plays the titular protagonist, a Florida-based P.I. who deals solely in tracking down animals that have been held captive. And so he’s the first person the Miami Dolphins call when their bottlenose dolphin mascot, Snowflake, is taken.
Ventura initially points the finger at Ronald Camp, a billionaire renowned for his illegal collection of exotic animals. Alongside the NFL team’s publicist Melissa (played by Courteney Cox), he then gatecrashes a party held by Camp to investigate further. But he nearly ends up losing his life when he wrongly identifies a man-eating shark as the missing dolphin.
After ruling out his first prime suspect, Ventura switches his attention to the Miami Dolphins squad of 1984. The pet detective had previously found part of an AFC Championship ring while searching Snowflake’s tank. But this theory soon proves to be a dead end when it’s revealed that each player still has their ring intact.
The case gets even trickier when the Dolphins’ head of operations, Roger Podacter, suffers a fatal fall from the balcony of his apartment. Although police treat his death as suicide, Ventura demonstrates foul play was involved. He subsequently learns of a former mid-season Dolphins player, Ray Finkle, who is now spending his days in a mental institution.
Indeed, Finkle apparently lost his mind following the Super Bowl XIX game in which he missed a vital field goal. The player blames the man who incorrectly placed the ball beforehand, none other than quarterback Dan Marino. The real-life NFL hero is also then kidnapped, which leads Ventura to believe that Finkle is also behind the dolphin abduction.
And there’s more. Ventura also proposes the theory that Podacter was murdered by Finkle when he was found sneaking around his home. The pet detective then goes undercover at the mental institution where Finkle is supposedly staying and makes a startling find while rifling through the former NFL player’s belongings.
Indeed, Ventura discovers a newspaper clipping about Lois Einhorn, a lost hiker who’s long since been presumed dead. Of course, this is also the name of the Miami Police Department lieutenant (played by Sean Young) who takes great pleasure in mocking the pet detective at every opportunity. Ventura then realizes that Einhorn and Finkle are in fact the same person!
Yes, capitalizing on the fact that no body was ever found, Finkle underwent gender reassignment surgery and used Einhorn’s identity to exact revenge on their former team. Ventura then follows the fake Einhorn to a deserted boatyard where Snowflake and Marino are being held. But Einhorn then turns the tables on Ventura by calling the cops on him.
Thankfully, Melissa and Emilio, a policeman friend of Ventura’s, manage to convince the police to listen to the pet detective’s theory. Assisted by Marino, Ventura then forces Einhorn to remove their clothes and it’s revealed that Finkle didn’t fully complete their gender reassignment surgery. Finkle, sporting an incriminating ring with a missing stone, is then arrested – but not before they assault Ventura.
Snowflake and Marino are then paraded at the football stadium where the Dolphins are playing a Super Bowl game against the Philadelphia Eagles. The final scene sees Ventura on the cusp of retrieving a costly albino pigeon. However, he’s inadvertently thwarted by Swoop, the Eagles’ mascot, who Ventura subsequently beats up.
Of course, it’s the big reveal beforehand that has left many modern-day viewers calling for Ace Ventura: Pet Detective to be boycotted. Indeed, the scene begins with Ventura attempting to expose Finkle as a fraud by yanking open their blouse. When it’s revealed that the character does in fact have breasts, Ventura then rips their skirt off expecting to find a bulge where there isn’t one.
But following some advice from Marino, Ventura spins Finkle around to reveal their tucked-back male genitalia. A burst of the soundtrack from transgender movie The Crying Game can be heard as all the male characters begin spitting in disgust. This reaction stems from the fact that they have all previously shared a kiss with the dastardly villain.
But the most visceral reaction comes from Ventura himself. Indeed, on learning of Einhorn’s true identity he immediately runs to the bathroom and begins retching. If that wasn’t enough, Finkle’s humiliation is then completed when they’re pushed into the water and given no chance to offer an explanation.
This scene is typical of how the transgender community was dealt with on-screen in the 1990s, according to writer Alexandra Perkins. In her book, Representing Queer and Transgender Identity, Perkins singled out The Crying Game and Ace Ventura for their questionable portrayal of trans characters. She wrote, “The representations that did exist tended to pathologize transgender people as mentally unstable.”
Ace Ventura was also criticized in Gordene O. Mackenzie’s book Reclaiming Gender for its blatant transphobia. Furthermore, in a 2016 The New York Times newspaper article Farhad Manjoo wrote of the finale, “There was little culturally suspect then about playing gender identity for laughs. Instead, as in many fictional depictions of transgender people in that era, the scene’s prevailing emotion is of nose-holding disgust.”
And the offence at Ace Ventura’s overt transphobia has continued to grow with each year. In 2019 Joe Rogan called for the film to be banned after rewatching it with his two young children. In a discussion about controversial movies, the radio host offered, “Do you know what I made the mistake of doing yesterday? I watched Ace Ventura: Pet Detective with my eight-year-old and my ten-year-old. I didn’t realize how transphobic that f***ing movie is.”
Referencing the big reveal, Rogan continued, “All the cops are throwing up… It’s off the charts. Everyone is freaking out. It is so insanely transphobic.” The UFC commentator then wondered whether iTunes should remove Ace Ventura: Pet Detective from its platform. In fact, he even questioned whether its inclusion should be illegal.
Rogan also had some strong words for his more conservative co-host about the matter. Indeed, Bari Weiss disagreed that the film should be banned. And Rogan responded, “Maybe someone on the woke left may disagree with you right now, calling you transphobic for defending this horrible, cisgendered, heteronormative, piece of s*** movie.”
Weiss soon clarified that although she believes the movie should still be available, she doesn’t agree with its message. “No that’s horrible,” she said regarding the film’s transphobic scene. “When I saw that movie, I was ten. Transphobia was not a thing. Now it is a thing. That’s good. That’s good news.”
In the end, the pair agreed that Ace Ventura: Pet Detective shouldn’t be banned. In fact, they also concluded that watching it in 2019 could actually be beneficial. Rogan said, “It’s important to show the progress. Like Ace Ventura for trans people… It’s amazing no one has ever brought this up. I feel like this is something that has never been discussed.”
However, Rogan and Weiss certainly weren’t the first to address Ace Ventura’s problematic nature. Indeed, in 2017 trans model Munroe Bergdorf revealed how its transphobic ending had a hugely negative impact on her wellness when they watched it as an eight-year-old. They began their Instagram post by recalling that they first saw the film after school at a classmate’s house.
Bergdorf then summarized the scene which caused them such offence. They said, “Sorry to ruin the ending if you haven’t seen it (don’t bother). It ends in the movie’s villain being caught, stripped to her underwear and exposed as in fact ‘a man.’ Then to add insult to injury, everyone in the room starts vomiting as they have all engaged in sex with her.”
The model went on to reveal how the ending personally affected them. They said, “Seeing a scene like this including a trans person, played by a cis woman — it may see trivial to some but I carried that ‘punchline’ throughout my adolescence. It made me feel guilty and confused about who I truly was. So I pushed my true self into my subconscious and tried to be someone I was not.”
However, Bergdorf also revealed that they’re glad at how far things have come. They added, “Fast-forward two decades and I am so proud to be doing my bit for transgender visibility in the media. I’m by no stretch of the imagination a perfect person, but none of us are.”
And in 2016, the movie’s transphobic storyline was referenced in an episode of TV sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Played by Andy Samberg, lead character Jake Peralta cites Ace Ventura: Pet Detective as a classic, albeit with one significant caveat. He says, “One of my childhood favorites, and it only gets overtly transphobic at the very end, so, a win.”
Rogen and Bergdorf’s valid criticisms about Ace Ventura: Pet Detective were also echoed on social media. One particularly exasperated Twitter user wrote, “Have you ever rewatched a movie from your childhood and realized s*** is not only unfunny but hella offensive? Wtf? Why was I allowed to watch Ace Ventura?”
Another disgruntled viewer of the film was in total agreement, tweeting, “At the very least it’s homophobic. Ventura re-enacts the shower scene from The Crying Game – a film about a trans woman – as a response to having kissed a man he thought was a woman. And it’s played for laughs. Grim.”
However, not all of social media was on board with this reappraisal of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. One fan on Twitter defended the movie by saying, “The character played by Sean Young was not trans. He was a man hiding as a woman to exact his revenge. Lighten up, it wasn’t about gender discrimination.”
Another slightly more combative user tweeted, “So people that are just now watching Ace Ventura: Pet Detective for the first time are saying it’s too offensive. Yeah it is because that’s what we did then. We watched offensive s*** without getting f***ing offended like a bunch of bitches… End rant.”