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Other Books by Roger Ebert

An Illini Century

A Kiss Is Still a Kiss

Two Weeks in the Midday Sun:A Cannes Notebook

Behind the Phantom’s Mask

Roger Ebert’s Little Movie Glossary

Roger Ebert’s Movie Home Companion(annually 19861993)

Roger Ebert’s Video Companion(annually 19941998)

Questions for the Movie Answer Man

Roger Ebert’s Book of Film: An Anthology

Roger Ebert’s Movie Yearbook(annually 1999 and 2000)

Ebert’s Bigger Little Movie Glossary

With Daniel Curley

The Perfect London Walk

With John Kratz

The Computer Insectiary

With Gene Siskel

The Future of the Movies: Interviews with Martin Scorsese,

Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas

This book is dedicated to

Gene Siskel


. . . who liked to ask, “Is this movie better than a documentary of the same actors having lunch?”


The purpose of a movie critic is to encourage good films and discourage bad ones. Of course, there is much disagreement about which is which. The films in this book, however, have few defenders. The degree of their badness ranges from those that are deplorable to others that are merely hilariously misguided. Some of them are even fun, although not so much fun you would want to see them twice.

For years I had a law that I would give the zero star rating only to films I believed were immoral in one way or another. Any other movie, however wretched, would get at least a half-star. In making this selection I find that I have not always adhered to that rule. While everyone would agree that Jaws the Revenge or Little Indian, Big City are very bad movies, for example, few would find them evil—unless it is evil to waste two hours in the lives of unsuspecting ticketbuyers, which it may well be. Other films are in the zero-star category as a sort of default; any star rating at all seems irrelevant to John Waters’ Pink Flamingos, which exists outside critical terms, like the weather.

Some of the worst films in the book are so jaw-droppingly bad they achieve a kind of grandeur. With all of the “making of” documentaries available these days, why did no one record the making of An Alan Smithee Film, or Frozen Assets? What values were expressed at the story conferences on North, the movie that inspired my title? What was the thinking on the set the day they first saw Rosie O’Donnell as an undercover cop in S&M gear in Exit to Eden? Or when they did screen tests for the karate-chopping infants in Baby Geniuses? Or when they added a P.C. disclaimer to Mr. Magoo for fear of offending the nearsighted?

The easiest movies to write about are always the ones at the extremes. Good and bad movies dictate their own reviews; those in the middle are more of a challenge. In writing strongly negative reviews, I am tempted to take cheap shots, and although I have fought that temptation on occasion, there are other times when I have simply caved in to it. I am not proud of all the smartass remarks in this book, but remember that the reviews were written soon after undergoing the experience of seeing the movies, and reflect that when a film insults your intelligence, your taste, and your patience all at once, it brings out the worst in you. The movies made me do it.


Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

(Directed by Tom Shadyac; starring Jim Carrey, Sean Young, Courteney Cox; 1994)

You know that the French consider Jerry Lewis the greatest screen comedian of all time. You’ve looked at some Lewis comedies, but you don’t get the joke. You know that a lot of critics praised Steve Martin in The Jerk, but you liked him better after he started acting more normal. You are not a promising candidate to see Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.

The movie stars Jim Carrey, best known as the all-purpose white guy on In Living Color, as a Miami detective who specializes in animals. He’ll find your missing bird or your kidnapped pedigree dog. And as the movie opens he’s hired by the Miami Dolphins football team to find their mascot, a dolphin named Snowflake which is mysteriously missing from its home in a large tank at the stadium. The plot deepens, if that is the word, when Dolphin quarterback Dan Marino also goes missing.

Carrey plays Ace as if he’s being clocked on an Energy-O-Meter, and paid by the calorie expended. He’s a hyper goon who likes to screw his mouth into strange shapes while playing variations on the language. He shares his house with so many animals, he’s like those zookeepers on late-night talk shows who always have pets crawling out of their collars. And he is simultaneously a spectacularly good and bad detective.

The story eventually involves Sean Young, who is much too talented for roles like Lieutenant Einhorn of the Miami police department; Udo Kier, once a distinguished German actor-director, now Ronald Camp, sinister millionaire; Courteney Cox as the Dolphin’s chief publicist; and Noble Willingham as the team’s owner. Most of the people look as if they would rather be in other movies. Sean Young is a trouper, however, and does her best with dialogue like, “Listen, pet dick. How would you like me to make your life a living hell?”

The movie basically has one joke, which is Ace Ventura’s weird nerdy strangeness. If you laugh at this joke, chances are you laugh at Jerry Lewis, too, and I can sympathize with you even if I can’t understand you. I found the movie a long, unfunny slog through an impenetrable plot. Kids might like it. Real little kids.

Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls

(Directed by Steve Oedekerk; starring Jim Carrey, Ian McNeice, Simon Callow; 1997)

I knew a guy once who had an amazing party trick. He could tilt his head way back, and stick a straw all the way up his nose. I hesitate to recount this memory, because if my review falls into the hands of Jim Carrey, we’ll see that trick in the next Ace Ventura movie and, believe me, it’s not the kind of trick you want to see again.

Carrey is an actor who gives new meaning to the term “physical comedian.” In the course of Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, he regurgitates in order to feed a starving eaglet; shows how he can push his eyeballs around with his fingertips; sticks his arm down a man’s throat to the elbow (in order to save him from choking on an apple core); and spits so copiously that he covers himself and two other characters with dripping mucus.

Of course it wouldn’t be an Ace Ventura movie if he only expectorated. First he has to snort long and loudly, in order to gather his mucus supply, which he seems to be drawing not only from the sinus area but from every inner bodily crevice. The fundamental principle of this series is that less is not more, and more is not enough.

Consider, for example, the scene where Ace wants to conceal himself while spying on some suspected African bat thieves. He hides inside a giant mechanical rhinoceros. But it’s hot in there, under the African sun, and so he strips. Then the rhino develops operational difficulties, and it’s time for Ace to escape. No points for guessing which of the rhino’s orifices the naked detective chooses for his exit.

With my hand over my heart I have to confess that I did not find this movie very funny. Not funny enough to recommend. Not as good as the original Ace Ventura, which I also did not recommend (but which, on reflection, I probably should have awarded two stars instead of one). Not as filled with incident and invention. And yet I confess I’m inspired by the spirit of the enterprise. Jim Carrey makes no little plans, takes no hostages, cuts no corners, and allows no compromise. I like his attitude.