In the world of pop culture/movie blogs, we’re almost always writing about “the next big thing.” Internet culture is obsessed with talking about who will be in the next Marvel movie, what DC’s plans are for its own cinematic universe, and which reboot has just received a greenlight, and we’re certainly not immune to those discussions. We love blockbuster films just as much as you guys do. But over the past few years, the blogosphere has collectively decided it’s acceptable (and necessary, if you want to stay relevant) to go from writing about which actors have been cast in an upcoming film, to which actors have taken meetings for an upcoming film, to which actors are on studios’ wish lists for an upcoming film. It’s gotten a little ridiculous. And the reality is, it’s not going to stop any time soon. There’s no magic button we can push to reset this whole thing and go back to the way it used to be. To thrive, we’ll adapt, and that means sometimes covering rumors about which actor might wear tights in the next superhero movie. But that doesn’t mean we can’t also have conversations about other things, too.
In this new column, I’ll take a couple of minutes to look back and explore cultural implications, note weird observations, or just try to point out something worthwhile about films from the past. I’m not going to promise that this will be a weekly or even monthly thing – in truth, I’ll probably only crank out five or six of these in a year – but it’ll at least give us some time to talk about movies that already exist, not just ones that will exist a few years from now. It’s great to look forward, but there’s something to be said for looking in the rear view mirror once in a while, too.
It’s hard to remember a time when Jim Carrey wasn’t an instantly recognizable superstar. But that time was almost exactly twenty years ago, in January of 1994. Until that point, Carrey was notable only for small roles in the Dirty Harry film The Dead Pool (1988) and as an alien in Earth Girls Are Easy (1989), which led him to be a featured player on the sketch comedy series “In Living Color.” By that show’s third season, he wanted to move into more film roles, and he did so in a big way in 1994, the year he exploded onto the big screen and became a comedy icon.
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective was filmed in 1993 for about $11 million, but audiences almost saw a very different film – the studio reportedly reached out to Rick Moranis for the role before Carrey accepted. When Carrey came on board, he re-wrote the screenplay with director Tom Shadyac and changed the Ventura character into the over-the-top version we know today, adding the famous “alrighty then” catchphrase along with the exaggerated voice and mannerisms. As Ventura, Carrey dropped his brand of physical comedy into a noir-ish detective story, and his absurd one-liners quickly became lodged in the zeitgeist. The film received mixed reviews upon its release in February of 1994, but it was a box office success, raking in $107 million worldwide.
Carrey’s second film of the year, The Mask, hit theaters in July of ’94, and if there were any doubts about the actor’s ability to “open” a movie, they vanished when this film was released. The Mask made over $350 million worldwide during its run, and it provided Carrey with an opportunity to mix his over-the-top physical comedy with some legitimately dramatic moments. Here he plays Stanley Ipkiss, a ho-hum insurance salesman who discovers a magical mask that turns him into a whirling, green-faced ball of pure id and allows him to live out his wildest fantasies. But the dual persona allows him the opportunity to show he’s capable of more than just exaggerated facial expressions. His Ipkiss is a sad, lonely romantic, and though the scenarios around his character were admittedly bizarre, this may have been the earliest hint of the excellent dramatic work he’d pump out in later years. It’s a neon-drenched, pulpy, flat-out entertaining comedy, and when you combine Carrey’s larger-than-life performance with some dazzling special effects, the results are often jaw-dropping. (Also jaw-dropping? Cameron Diaz, making her big-screen debut.) A fun note: Until the recent comic book movie boom, which started in the early 2000s, The Mask was one of the most successful comic book movies ever made.
By the time Dumb and Dumber was released in December, it was icing on Carrey’s already impressive cake of a year. Paired with future Emmy winner Jeff Daniels, Carrey doesn’t dominate the film nearly as much as he does in the previous two movies; he’s content to share the laughs with his on-screen partner. That he didn’t demand to be the center of attention proved he could play well with others, and the dynamic between he and Daniels is fantastic as they travel across the country to track down Carrey’s potential love interest. The film’s humor absolutely lives up to its title, with each scene somehow more quotable than the one before it. It’s telling that Carrey has only returned to star in sequels twice in his entire career, and those are sequels to Ace Ventura and Dumb and Dumber.
Later in his career, Carrey joined the ranks of Tom Hanks, Bill Murray, and Robin Williams as one of the few comedic actors able to completely reinvent his career and cross over into starring in respected dramatic films. His work in The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is among his absolute best, but when all is said and done, Carrey’s legacy was sealed in those fateful months twenty years ago when he blew the doors off of Hollywood and announced himself as a remarkable, extraordinary comedic presence.
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