We should have expected it, I suppose. If a movie is popular enough, especially a comedy, a studio is bound to follow it up with a sequel or two. Warner Bros. followed up 1994’s “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” with 1995’s “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls” and then a 1996 animated TV series. Now we get 2009’s straight-to-video entry, “Ace Ventura Jr.: Pet Detective.” It’s the first of the live-action “Ventura” yarns not to star Jim Carrey. Instead, we get young Josh Flitter. What was pretty juvenile in the first place becomes literally juvenile in this straightforward kids’ romp. If I were a kid, I might like it. But I’m not a kid, and I didn’t.
OK, you may have wondered whatever happened to Ace Ventura Sr. in the dozen or so years since we last saw him on screen. Well, it happens that he got married to the girl he met in the first movie, Melissa (played originally by Courteney Cox and this out by Ann Cusack), and they had a child, Ace Jr. But then Ace Sr. disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle following a wild-goose chase or something, so Jr. never really got to know his dad. Mom has raised Ace Jr. by herself ever since, the mother and son living in Orlando, Florida, the mother working for a zoo.
Ace Jr. is now twelve, and like father, like son. No matter how hard Melissa tries to get young Ace to ignore animals, the animals pull him in. That is, he’s drawn to investigate missing ones. It’s in his blood. Like his hairdo, which one morning when he wakes up he finds flipped up and to the side, just like his dad’s. His mom doesn’t want him taking after his father, but what can he do? Nature will have its way.
At school, Ace’s female classmates (every one of whom is pretty; only in the movies would a school have an entire student body of beautiful people) call upon him to find their lost pets. The entire girls’ swim team ask him to find their missing mascot, an alligator named Mr. Chompers, and threaten to throw him in the pool if he doesn’t.
Again, what can a poor guy do? Then a real disaster strikes. The zoo’s panda, Ting-Ting, goes missing, and Agent Russell Hollander (Art LaFleur), the doltish head of the National Bureau of Fish and Wildlife, comes in with a full SWAT team to arrest Melissa. Hollander has only circumstantial evidence against the mom, like she works at the zoo, doesn’t she?, but he takes her in, anyway. Ace Jr. must find the panda and get his mother out of jail. In the meantime, Ace’s grandfather (Ralph Waite), Ace Sr.’s dad, comes to take care of him, and we see how pet sleuthing runs in the family.
And that’s about it. There are a few stereotyped characters coming and going, like Laura (Emma Lockhart), the little girl Ace likes, who helps him with his investigation; A-Plus (Austin Rogers), a science nerd who also helps out, just to have a friend who won’t beat him up; Quenton Pennington Jr. (Reed Alexander), a snobby rich kid; Dr. Sickinger (Cullen Douglas), a prime suspect; and Oxnard, Ace’s dog. None of these folks make much of an impression, except maybe the dog; they’re just window dressing.
Here’s the thing: The way I’ve always figured it, a good kids’ film, unless it’s meant for toddlers, should appeal to some degree to adults as well as children. I’m not just thinking here of big fantasy epics like “Harry Potter” or “The Chronicles of Narnia,” but smaller things like “Treasure Island,” “Mary Poppins,” “The Santa Clause,” and “The Parent Trap.” What’s odd is that the director of “Ace Ventura Jr.,” David Mickey Evans, had already done a great kids’ film called “The Sandlot,” so he knew how to do it. What happened here? “Ace Ventura Jr.” might barely appeal to a ten-year-old, and all Evans does is act as a traffic cop, directing his young actors in a slew of blunt, non-funny situations.
The movie contains not a shred of humor that might tickle an adult’s funny bone. Well, I take that back. The girls’ swim team having a full-grown alligator as a mascot is kind of amusing. But, honestly, that’s the only thing I found even remotely humorous about the picture. For instance, when the swim team threaten to throw Ace in the pool if he doesn’t find their mascot, they do. That’s the joke. Or when a girl loses her pet skunk, Ace goes out and finds the wrong one. He brings it back, and the girl says no, that’s not her skunk. That’s the joke. And grandpa drags around what appears to be a dead dog on a leash. He insists the dog is only sleeping. That’s the joke. Of course, Ace farts several times in the film, which is always sure to bring a smile to a kid viewer’s face.
What we’ve got, then, is star Josh Flitter trying his best to act zany like his movie dad, Carrey, and flailing around in the process. Although Flitter is personable, the script gives him nothing to do beyond mugging and running around. Mostly, he gets chased by various people, with a lot of slapstick falling down added in. I guess kids like that kind of thing.
While “Ace Ventura Jr.: Pet Detective” is as run-of-the-mill a kid’s film as you’ll find, at least it has the good sense not to be offensive (unless you count the aforementioned farts). The movie is witless, dull, and remarkably flat, true, but it does have some color and movement. Sill, it’s nothing much for a viewer to care about and, thus, it’s ultimately slow and bland. To be honest, the film looks more like a promotional for the Orlando Tourist Bureau than it does a real motion picture, the filmmakers having shot it in Orlando’s Sea World, Universal Orlando Resort, and other locations around the city.
The animals are cute.
The Warner engineers reproduce the movie’s 1.85:1 aspect ratio using an anamorphic transfer, which appears to capture most of the film’s visuals pretty well. However, that’s not to say the film is visually all that spectacular. At first glance, I thought the filmmakers had used a digital camera to photograph it, but, in fact, they shot it in 16 mm. Colors are bright and most often reasonably deep, although faces show up a bit too darkly. Definition is merely so-so, but it’s helped a lot by the vividness of the hues. Nevertheless, the image can look somewhat soft and sometimes blurred. Let’s just say it’s fine for what it needs to do, but it isn’t the clearest, sharpest video around.
Like the video, the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is up to the task at hand, as long as one understands that the film doesn’t call upon the soundtrack to do a whole lot beyond reproduce dialogue and background music. It does so with the use of occasional rear-channel voices and musical bloom. The midrange is realistic enough, but don’t expect much in the way of frequency extremes or dynamic impact. These qualities simply aren’t there and don’t need to be.
The bonus materials begin with a gag reel lasting about four minutes, followed by a sequence of five extended scenes lasting about five minutes. Then there are six brief featurettes, the titles of which are self-explanatory: “Ace and His Animals,” “Ace Ventura Jr.: The Inside Story,” “Austin and Emma,” “All Play and No Work,” “Now Introducing…the Animals,” and “Ox the Dog,” each lasting from two-to-five minutes.
The extras wrap up with sixteen scene selections; several trailers at start-up only; English as the only spoken language; French and Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
If I were an eight or ten or even twelve-year-old, I’m sure I’d love “Ace Ventura Jr.: Pet Detective.” But I’m an adult, and I found it boring. So, we’ll have to split the difference on the film rating below; add two more points if you’re a kid. I should warn you, however, that if you’re a fan of the Jim Carrey “Ventura” films, you’re probably not going to like this kids’ version.