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'Ace' doesn't play wild card Movie review: Jim Carrey is back in "Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls." But this sequel doesn't know how to use his considerable talents.


For complete idiocy untainted by any hint of rational thought, taste or restraint, the only game in town is the brain-dead, laugh-dense "Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls."

I don't know if nature really called, but the original "Ace's" box office certainly did, which pretty much explains why the film exists. It may even explain why the film is, over the long haul, less funny than "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective," and less funny than "Dumb and Dumber." Instead of a certified 343 laughs a reel, it's down to about, oh, 219.

The oddest thing, however, is that the director, a first-timer named Steve Oedekerk, a "Living Color" crony of Jim Carrey's, doesn't seem to know what's so funny about Carrey.

In fact, most of the big-time professional comedy bits in the film don't really work; they build and build and go nowhere, and they use Carrey so frenetically in service to the hopeless plot that they detract from his sublime comic gift. It's at the quieter moments when Carrey is more or less left to his own devices that the film is its most screamingly funny.

I used to wonder: What planet is this guy from? No more. The very concept "planet," with its dependence on the sub-concept "solar system" and its further dependence on the sub-sub-concept "universe," is hardly adequate to convey the other-worldly weirdness of the man. The better question might be: What cosmic zone is he from? He's certainly not from this one.

It's a very odd comic persona. He dares find the comic core of annoyance. He always plays someone who is extremely irritating: infantile, moronic, smug, nattering, whiny, gratingly loud. He's always on; he's always charged, hopped-up, electrified, goosed, blitzed and, even in repose, is issuing small units of comic genius.

It's something to see: his mouth permuting like an energetic paramecium, his eyes seemingly altering in size and even placement on his skull, his sculptural hair heroically resisting the imprecations of nature, his face recombining itself like a Rubik's Cube of flesh. He's the original Elastic Man. Some have called him a living cartoon. He's not; he's a one-man, three-ring circus combined with art museum and special-effects shop.

Oedekerk is at least astute enough to connect with the comic idea of the necessary impact such a dynamo of dysfunction would have on his fellow human beings, and he gets continual laughs by panning away to the utterly stunned, slack-jawed faces who witness the most recent bit of Ace pathology.

But nothing else really works consistently. Set in an "Africa" that looks as African as, say, the outskirts of San Antonio, Texas (where it was shot), the film follows as Ace attempts to find a missing white bat that forms the ceremonial core of an African tribe and whose absence portends tribal war.

Among other things, the movie appears not to realize that the British no longer control Africa, but that's a small matter; more offensively, neither does it know you're not supposed to degrade black people by portraying "natives" as stupid savages who do funny, stupid dances.

It does know that big-game hunters are axiomatic villains, and once you see who has a trophy room in the early going, the movie's suspense all but vanishes. Still, I wondered what the fuss was all about. From the obvious fakery of the trophy heads, the only species this guy hunts could hardly be called endangered -- it's the polycarbonate atom.

The great British actor Simon Callow, about 100 pounds lighter than he was in "Four Weddings and a Funeral," plays the svelte Brit who hires Ace out of a Tibetan monastery to find the bat. A genial Ian McNeice is straight man to Ace's lunacy. Sophie Okonedo, Tommy Davidson and Maynard Eziashi all attempt TC mightily to inject an element of dignity into the film's lame portrayal of Africans.

The plot bounces Ace's investigation this way and that anarchistic, improvising humor as it goes and wisely stopping to record Carrey when he comes up with something promising. But then it's always back to that sublimely uninteresting story.

"Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls" isn't even dumb and dumber: It's simply dumbest.

'Ace Ventura'

Starring: Jim Carrey and Simon Callow

Directed by: Steve Oedekerk

Released by: Morgan Creek

Rating: PG-13 (some sexual innuendo)

Sun score: ** 1/2

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