(On Cable TV, December 2018) It’s still far too early to start issuing definitive statements about Jim Carrey’s career, but with a bit of perspective it’s clear that by the early 2010s, he was still switching between the kinds of slapstick high-energy performances and more nuanced character work, not always comic. For old-school Carrey fans, the treat with Mr. Popper’s Penguins was seeing Carrey back in unapologetic slapstick form, even in a movie aimed at kids. The story here boils down to a workaholic Manhattanite realtor inheriting a few penguins in his high-rise apartments. Will it help him reconnect with his estranged ex-wife and kids? Well, of course it will. That’s not the point. The point are the penguins’ antics and how Carrey will react to them—or specifically how often he’ll slip on something and fall. While the CGI required to portray the penguins isn’t always convincing, it certainly gets the point across and lets the movie make its jokes. As usual for those kinds of comedies, the real fun of the film is to be found in the details: I was quite taken, for instance, by the protagonist’s assistant (played by Ophelia Lovibond) peppering her speeches with P-words. Carrey is almost up to form, while Carla Gugino does serviceable work in a rather dull role as the ex-wife. Rather amiable and conventional, Mr. Popper’s Penguins won’t be anyone’s idea of a great movie, but it does get us Carrey indulging in a lot of physical comedy, which is a good compensation.
(In French, On TV, November 2018) Each Dirty Harry movie gets worse and worse, and The Dead Pool marks not only the end of the series, but the cul-de-sac in which its increasing self-parody could lead. As the film begins, Harry Callahan has become enough of a celebrity that he qualifies for inclusion in a municipal death pools—that is, predictions on whether he will soon die. The plot gets going once someone decides to hasten his demise, motivated by overall psychopathy and revenge. Clint Eastwood sports yet another hairdo here, and I can’t underscore how weird it feels to see Callahan’s character in the firmly established 1980s: He’s such a creation of the 1970s that it just feels wrong to see him compose with the worst clichés of the decade, including Guns’n’Roses. (Sudden Impact, the fourth film of the series was indeed set in the eighties, but its small-town setting and early-decade product means that it still felt like the seventies.) It gets worse once you see Callahan interact with up-and-coming actors that would achieve notoriety a decade later: pay attention, and you’ll see Jim “James” Carrey, Liam Neeson and Patricia Clarkson (looking like Natasha McElhone!) in supporting roles adding to the weirdness. Mind you, the film has enough contemporary weirdness on its own—Callahan is here written as a self-parody, fully indulging in the worst traits of his character. The nadir of the entire Dirty Harry cycle can be found in the silly car chase featuring… an explosive remote-controlled car. (Nobody will be surprised to find out that Callahan’s car does not survive the film, as noticed by the characters. And we won’t bring up what happens to Callahan’s partners.) The Dead Pool feels like an overextended joke, a wholly useless entry in a constantly declining series. Amusingly enough, it’s not even included in many of the Dirty Harry compilations on the market, which should tell you enough about it.
(On Cable TV, July 2016) There are many things I don’t like about stupid humour, and one of them is the way it curdles the older its practitioners are. Watching Jim Carrey and Jeff Bridges goof off in 1994 when they were in their thirties is bad enough, but seeing them act like big doofuses in 2014 when they’re in their fifties is adding a substantial layer of melancholy on something that’s already pretty sad. It gets worse considering how Dumb and Dumber To tries to bring in issues of fatherhood (flirting far too long with the stomach-churning idea of a character having designs on the other one’s daughter) in-between wasting one’s life on dumb jokes. The film starts badly, builds setpieces that aren’t as funny as the screenwriters think and sort of peters out at some point before the end. There are a few high notes, although one of them (the brief return of the iconic dog van) is notable in how quickly it speeds by. As in the original, dumb humour abounds, but very little of it has the kind of panache that made the first film so memorable and grudgingly funny. It doesn’t help that, in twenty years, the comedy zeitgeist has moved away from the original’s model. Carrey can’t very well return to the same kind of humour he did twenty years ago without looking ridiculous in unintended ways, while Bridges doesn’t completely abase himself. In that chaos of dumb taste, only Kathleen Turner emerges gracefully, although having one of the most level-headed characters in the film helps a lot. After so many modest efforts and all-out misfires, you’d think that the Farrelly Brothers would stop making movies at some point, but clearly the box office results show that I’m wrong and my opinions on the matter don’t mean anything. In the meantime, Dumb and Dumber To exists, and you only have yourself the blame if you end up watching it.
(Second viewing, On Cable TV, May 2016) I didn’t have very good memories of Dumb & Dumber, and a revisit twenty-some years later only highlights why: I don’t react well to deliberately dumb humour, and this film has enough of it to fill a trilogy. I spent the film’s first half-hour in an increasing state of self-loathing, wondering why I was re-watching it and feeling my IQ dropping every minute. Eventually (specifically during the diner scene where a seasoned criminal unsuccessfully try to kill the protagonists), I reached an equilibrium of sorts, and the film finally started feeling funny. Not exceptionally funny, but funny enough to coast until the end. Jim Carrey does deliver a remarkable performance (alongside Ace Ventura and The Mask, it’s part of his astonishing 1994 breakout year), and seeing Jeff Bridges abase himself so low does have an interest of its own. The humour is dumb enough that it’s easy to forget that two skilled comedians (the Farrelly Brothers) wrote this stuff, but some of the film’s more outlandish moments (such as the fantasy sequences, or the living-large segment) do show some invention going beyond the dumb humour. I’m not going to claim that I was seduced by the results, but Dumb & Dumber does become good enough to escape the confines of its chosen dumb-jokes subgenre, and it’s that kind of success that highlights a better-than-average effort. This being said, I’m more than OK with the thought that I may not have to watch this again for another twenty years.
(Netflix Streaming, August 2015) The second half of Jim Carrey’s career has been marked by its fair share of easy roles, either riffing off his established persona or taking on a bland everyman role that anyone else could have played. But if I Love You Phillip Morris may not have had the visibility of some of his other projects, it’s a joyously amoral comedy that sees Carrey stretch a bit and take on the kind of role that still feels faintly daring even years later. Playing a gay ex-cop turned con man who falls in love with another inmate (Ewan MacGregor, also quite good and willing to extend his already inclusive persona) and then stops at nothing (big-time embezzlement, wilful convictions, cell-block favors, fake death) to be reunited with his love and live comfortably, Carrey is able to parlay his manic sweetness into a lot of sympathy for an anti-hero capable to lying his way to the top but ultimately brought down to earth by True Love. The script is witty, the direction is energetic and the result is simply a lot of fun despite some rather dark themes brought up along the way. Criminally under-seen but certainly worth a look, I Love You Phillip Morris may do much to improve your perception of Jim Carrey, especially in the latter body of work.
(Netflix Streaming, April 2015) Watching this film from 2015’s viewpoint, I’m actually surprised that it dates from 2005 and not from, say, 2010. As a comic take on suburban desperation after a severe economic catastrophe, Fun with Dick and Jane may have been inspired by early-2000s Enron, but it feels designed for the late-2000s Great Recession. While it’s nominally a remake of a 1977 film, Fun with Dick and Jane is conceived as yet another excuse for Jim Carrey to goof off, as his executive-level protagonist turns to a life of crime after losing a high-flying job and seeing his comfortable upper-middle-class threatened with foreclosure. Carrey gets play up his clean-cut goofiness, banter back and forth with a game Tea Leoni and generally cut loose. Not every gag in the film works (there’s a subplot, arguably an entire character, designed to culminate in a series of immigration jokes) and the denunciation of corporate malfeasance is more caricatured than effective, but Fun With Dick and Jane at least delivers another fair classic-Carrey performance, and a few decent chuckles along the way. It does feel like a film out of time, though, far more appropriate five years later (alongside The Other Guys or Tower Heist) than for 2005.
(On TV, January 2015) I’m not sure when the Jim Carrey golden era ended. We all know it started in 1994, but the classic rubber-faced speed-talking Carrey sort of petered out during the mid-2000s, and Yes Man, with its similarities with archetypical Carrey vehicle Liar, Liar, feels like the end of an era not even eight years later. Suffice to say that a simple premise (a man convinced he must say Yes! To all questions asked of him) leads to ample opportunities for broad comedy in the typical Carrey mold, stripping away a clean-cut exterior to reveal madness within. Carrey is pretty good as his usual shtick, even though the mechanics of the say-yes plot are moronic at best. This being said, the film doesn’t quite work as a romantic comedy, partially because Carrey is eighteen years older than co-star Zooey Deschanel (and looks like it; the role plays better as a young-man one) and partially because the film has such a high concept that it sucks all the oxygen required for a romantic subplot to truly breathe – it simply falls back on broad strokes in which the audience supplies their own emotional connection based on generic subplot knowledge. Still, Yes Man isn’t hard to watch – it’s good-natured, dumb and goofy enough to be pleasant even when it doesn’t do much that the expected. Terence Stamp has a fun turn as a cranky motivational speaker and, of course, Carrey is likable no matter the circumstances. While the results may not be spectacular, they do extend what we could think of as the classic-Carrey filmography and that’s already nothing to dismiss.
(On TV, December 2014) A good chunk of Jim Carrey’s early filmography from Ace Ventura to Liar, Liar (both also directed by Bruce Almighty’s Tom Shadyac) is made of high-concept comedies built around Carrey’s mannerisms,: Past 2003, Carrey would attempt more and more dramatic roles, and his return to comedy would either feel dated or aimed in a different direction. In this light, Bruce Almighty certainly feels like the last in a good Shadyac / Carrey line-up, offering Carrey the chance to play both mild-mannered everyday-man and unhinged rubber-faced maniac. The premise couldn’t be simpler: Following a terrible day, an ordinary man curses God and is given his powers and responsibilities to see if he would do better. As an excuse for Carrey to play with divine powers, it couldn’t be better: water parts, girlfriends get curvier and various religion-based puns rain down on the audience. It’s not hilarious, but it’s relatively amusing, almost entirely unthreatening despite the religious subject matter and Carrey gets one good reason to play the kind of comedy that made him famous. Morgan Freeman is perfect as God, while Steve Carrell has an early supporting role as a foil and Jennifer Aniston is cute but unremarkable as the perfunctory girlfriend. For all of the chuckles, though, there are few outright laughs, and the film’s insistence to remain respectfully grounded (all the way to third-act sermons) stops its absurdity from being more gripping. The results, in other words, don’t quite live up to the premise and the result settles for a middling average.
(On Cable TV, January 2013) At first glance, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone has a lot going for it: An ensemble of high-powered comic actors, a rich premise that opposes old-school stage magic with new-style street magic, a return to glitzy Las Vegas and a can’t-miss redemptive arc for the protagonist. What we get is quite a bit less straightforward. From the laboured beginning all the way through an overlong third act, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone can’t quite find either a consistent tone or a sustained rhythm. Scenes run too long (even when the directing bets on the old “repeat it long enough and it will start being funny again” fallacy), the tone keeps going back and forth between attempted sincerity and zany antics and there’s a distinct sense that the film just isn’t trying hard enough to make good use of the tools at its disposal. Steve Carrell may have a likable hangdog charm, but the film takes a lot of time to dispense with the initial arrogance of his character, and then goes through the exasperating romance with a co-star half his age. Fortunately, the cast is usually better than the material. An occasionally-unrecognizable Jim Carrey steals most of his scenes as a street magician with a poor sense of self-preservation (while his scenes are generally the funniest of the film, they’re also the most out-of-place, contributing to the tonal problems), while Alan Arkin makes the most out of a plum grouchy-old-mentor role. Olivia Wilde, Steve Buscemi and James Gandolfini bring added depth to perfunctory-written supporting characters, but even they seem a bit bored with the material. As with the similarly-themed Now You See Me, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone makes the mistake of using CGI to accomplish magic tricks, undermining its basic credibility in the process. Alas, it doesn’t have the breakneck pacing of Now You See Me, and the result feels decidedly average. It’s not that the film doesn’t have its moments (there’s a really good bedtime magician patter scene, and the film always becomes funnier once Arkin or Carrey are on-screen), but it feels as if it’s not trying hard enough the rest of the time. While it’s funny and entertaining enough to warrant a look, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone doesn’t earn much more than a final shrug. There is, simply put, too little magic in the final result.
(Second Viewing, On Cable TV, June 2012) Now that The Mask is nearly old enough to vote, what can be said about the best of Jim Carrey’s three big breakout hits of 1994? Mostly that it has aged better than anyone would expect. Oh, sure, the 1994-era CGI is noticeable: There are numerous times where the live-action Mask is replaced by CGI enhancements, and from today’s perspective, the lack of fluidity of the seams are far more easily perceived today. What hasn’t aged, on the other hand, is Carrey’s exhilarating rubber-faced performance as the unleashed id of The Mask –a green-faced transposition of Tex Avery cartoons. The Mask is still a compelling character, and even the overused one-liners that everyone remembers are still amusing in context. On a tonal level, though, The Mask has a number of problems: At its best (such as during its riotous “Hey Pachuco!” musical number), it’s a jazzy and harmless cartoon –at its worst, it’s a mash-up between violence and stupidity. One could argue, for instance, that the silliness of The Mask should revolve around its masked character rather than in the idiot-plotting universe surrounding him. There are also problems in the way some of the violence is handled too blatantly (although, reading about some deleted scenes, it could have been worse.) Also worth noting is Cameron Diaz’s first big-screen performance: she looks amazingly good here, and she holds her own against an unleashed Carrey. The thematic underpinning of the film are more than highlighted (the mask as self, the Tex Avery comics), but the film’s silliness doesn’t require a lot of subtext. See it for Carrey and Diaz… and the Mask.
(On Cable TV, May 2012) Despite ample evidence to the contrary, Jim Carrey is still primarily perceived as a comedian, and part of the appeal of psychological thriller The Number 23 is seeing him headline a fairly grim tale of obsession and death. As an ordinary guy suddenly fascinated by a book explaining the numerological intricacies of the number 23, Carrey does well –especially when the film take a meta-fictional bent and start presenting both the character’s reality and the heightened fiction that he reads. The Number 23 is never more enjoyable than when it’s weird without explanations, going from reality to fiction to increasing paranoia. When comes the moment for the movie to lay down its cards and tie everything together, you can hear the creaks of the tortured storytelling (in which characters do bizarre things for no better reason than to look suspicious later on), the disappointment of threads being tied up and the lousiest plot cheats come up again. Still, the film feels underrated: Ably directed by Joel Shumacher, it has a potent visual kick, a strong directing style and some stylish cinematography. Carrey is believable in the lead role (though not distinctive enough to be worth the rumored 23 million dollars he was paid for it), while Virginia Marsden and Danny Huston provide able supporting work. The plotting certainly isn’t airtight (the boy’s age doesn’t match the chronology), but the film makes a compelling case for itself as a visual piece of work. Shumacher may have burned out spectacularly after Batman & Robin, but he has since been turning in some interesting niche movies, from Tigerland to Trespass and now The Number 23.
(Second viewing, on DVD, September 2009) In retrospect, the post-1989 Batman movies neatly fall into a trio of pairs, with Batman Forever being the first of the Joel Schumacher duo that would reach such a nadir with Batman & Robin. While Batman Forever is noticeably worse than Burton’s Batman Returns, it still carries itself with flashy colourful blockbuster grandeur, with ridiculous set-pieces that nonetheless show a certain breadth of conception. As a result, it hasn’t aged all that badly… but don’t expect much: there are still plenty of ridiculous moments in the mix, and Jim Carrey as the Riddler now feels like Ace Ventura in costume: his tics are so recognizably his that they don’t mesh all that well in the bigger tapestry of the movie. The rest often feels overlong and underthought, with a campy atmosphere that never completely meshes with the rest of the film. The special edition DVD is both interesting and disappointing in that it does present a number of interesting deleted scenes that deepen the film (and those themes would later pop up in the Nolan-era Batman movies) but almost never acknowledges its troubled production history. Even Schumacher’s commentary presents a rosy view of Batman Forever’s production: it’s not an uninteresting commentary, but it seems to skirt around essential material. The rest of the features aren’t much above promotional fluff.