"Kinda hot in these rhinos..."
Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls is one of the most quotable films of my childhood. The film is hilarious, for one. It's one of Jim Carrey's most invigorated performances in his early career (weren't they all?), and I have often looked back fondly when I recalled rushing to the video store to rent a copy, or sit in my best friend's bedroom and quote the movie word-for-word. As an adult who has grown exponentially since a shy 14-year-old quoting vague sex jokes at the expense of anyone within earshot, I've learned after a recent viewing that Ace Ventura is a real dick.
And, as culturally prolific as he was for my generation, the character himself lacked a lot of tact and culture himself. I haven't seen this movie in over a decade, though I can still quote a lot of the film. And many scenes, like the animatronic rhino and the showdown with Tommy Davidson's tribesman, are burned into memory from the several hundred times I saw the film early in life. Who wouldn't laugh at Ace trying to comically pull two spears out of each of his legs?
The cinematography is excellent, people who've never seen the movie know this film is a literal vessel for Jim Carrey's absurd humor, and the jokes hit almost every time. This short review will be centered more on the cultural aspects of the film and how it all ties together (or rather, unravels itself in culturally appropriate 2017).
When I was a kid, I never thought of the strange things the African tribesmen do to each other, or how improper Ace was toward the Tibetan munks. One of the grossest (and arguably the funniest) sight gags in the film is when Ace meets the African tribe leader for the first time, and they all commence to spit in each other's faces as a sign of great respect.
Of course, the cultural divide inherent in the film is similar to reality in that Ace feels disrespected at first, and then learns it really is a sign of respect. He offers up a guttural spit in the face that covers all four men in goo, and it one of several gross sight gags found within.
I guess what has me questioning the gesture's sincerity is that while all the African characters feel believable, they also feel as if they're being mocked simply because of their portrayal.
I won't say I can totally look beyond this because "1995 was a different time". Simply put, misguided and inappropriate acting from Black folks in the movie often feel like caricatures, rather than a proper representation.
Now, admittedly, I don't know anything about African tribesmen and their rituals. So, there could be a true reality ground into the fibers of the film, and here I am the speculating asshole in the room.
With that said, more research would need to be done. The other issue I take with the film is that of the tribesmen referring to Ace as "eekwensu ocha", meaning "white devil". These people don't have a basis for calling Ace that in the film's world.
No Arc is given to the tribe in order for them to have built a distrust with white men, and I know at least enough about Western Civilization's interactions with African tribesmen to know that a good deal of tribes don't have a specific platform of distrust for white people.
It's not to say the white people in the film don't deserve this kind of moniker or treatment; in fact, some of them do. I mean to say there's no basis for the implied distrust the name refers.
I don't subscribe to the "it's just a movie, enjoy it for what it's worth" ideology. We (filmmakers) are responsible for the universe we create. We (actors) ALWAYS have a choice in the roles we take. Every black person in the film chose to take on these roles for a paycheck. That is to say, the black folks who are modeling caricatures of their ancestors are accountable for their roles.
The white folks modeling stereotypes are accountable for their actions as those characters not paying proper respect to African culture. The writers, editers, and director are responsible for withdrawing those stereotypes when they arise (because that happens naturally) during production and assembly.
I'm not dissatisfied with the movie in terms of how it made me laugh. But, in the 1960's, Mickey Rooney played an old Chinese man. And, the cult of personality that reigned over that time period generally thought of his role as hilarious and not inappropriate.
I still hold several scenes in the film in high regard. However, I see the cultural aspects of the film to be lacking in tastefulness due wholly to the desire for a laugh.