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By Rory L. Aronsky | March 12, 2009

During the outtakes featured on the “Ace Ventura Jr.: Pet Detective” DVD, a clapboard is shown between scenes with “Ace Ventura III” printed on it. As someone whose first VHS tape was “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” and who has seen both films more times than could be considered absolutely necessary, I couldn’t help wondering: “If only Jim Carrey had gone against his probable desire not to be typecast.”

The five screenwriters on this production, along with kid-friendly director David Mickey Evans, have obviously studied both films closely, using recognizable elements from each. Your eagle-eyed attention will spot them.

Ace Irwin Ventura Jr. (Josh Flitter) chases after a mouse on the grounds of the zoo where his mother, Melissa, works, using a cinnamon-and-sugar-covered churro to try to deflect the mouse from going any further. But where his father screamed at the falling loss of a raccoon while suspended in mid-air between two mountains in “When Nature Calls,” Ace Jr., with the mouse in hand, merely encounters an alligator, screams and runs away from it, and then is forced to give up to his mom all the animals he has in his pockets. The kid apparently already has enough internal conflict from his father going missing, as conveyed by Melissa (Ann Cusack instead of Courtney Cox), who doesn’t want Ace becoming like his father, fearing she might lose him too. So she asks Ace to just be normal, and Ace is torn between that and his true nature, though he tries his best to be normal. Really he does. He even scoops out his dinner from his personalized dog bowl onto a regular plate.

But when Melissa is wrongfully arrested for the theft of a baby panda at the zoo, she calls in Grandpa Ventura (Ralph Waite) to keep an eye on him. Grandpa arrives, sporting the well-known hair in white, the open shirt, and spouting some of the expected catchphrases to quickly establish ancestry. He also drags around a furry carcass that’s meant to be a dog, a poor stab at a running gag that is the first of what makes the film founder.

Grandpa shows Ace the family line in an historical photo album, which would play badly if not for Evans. Such names as Sir Ernest Ventura Shackleton are mentioned, and each person in the photos sports the same hair. But since Ace is still unsure about who he is and who he’s supposed to be, Evans lets that remain the center of the scene, and the weak jokes disappear quickly without noticeable pain. Ace remaining conflicted between normalcy and his true nature should continue as a strong thread up to the end, because from “The Sandlot” on, Evans has excelled at accurately reading the strengths of his child actors and letting those be the forces of their characters. Josh Flitter’s sweetness and slight charm comes from that conflict.

Unfortunately, the screenwriters don’t let that subplot get in the way because damn it, they’re not going to let it erase what they’ve acquired from the previous films. Therefore, after Ace is unable to convince a judge that his mom is innocent, she gives him a key to a chest in the attic that reveals amazingly well-preserved pint-sized versions of the Hawaiian t-shirt, the wife-beater undershirt, the boots, and the sunglasses. He says quietly, “All righty then,” and we’re off on what shouldn’t have been filmed.

The next shot is of the boots walking (mirroring the beginning of “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” with Ace’s deliveryman shoes) and Tone Loc’s “Ace is in the House” playing on the soundtrack, also used during the end credits. Ace Jr. has found his place. And then he is promptly called on the number of lost pets he promised to find, which leads to the swim team throwing him in the school pool for not finding their alligator mascot. The following shot is of his soaked shoes and pants, matching when Ace Sr. came out of the bathroom after falling into the shark tank in the first film.

Ace Jr. has his own technology whiz in A-Plus (Austin Rogers), just like Ace Sr. had Woodstock. In fact, there’s a moment in the extended scenes on the DVD where it’s subtly suggested that, surprisingly, Woodstock is A-Plus’ father, with A-Plus mentioning that his father had built the secret lab in the school when he was there, and disappeared like Ace’s father, though in Roswell. However, Woodstock never pestered Ace Sr. about if he’s his friend, as A-Plus does too much when Ace needs his help.

There’s also a love interest for the young Ace, in Laura (Emma Lockhart), one of the students at Ace’s school with a pet missing. Just like Melissa to Ace Sr., she’s a little freaked out by Ace Jr. at first, though she agrees to help him on his quest to find out who nabbed the baby panda. Then the gradual attraction happens.

Ace Jr. also faces off against his own Aguado (John Capodice in the first film) in Russell Hollander (Art LaFleur), an agent with the National Bureau of Fish and Wildlife who suspects Melissa is the panda thief, without doing any necessary detective work. He ridicules and belittles Ace Jr.’s efforts to prove his mom’s innocence, and, since this is a kids’ film, is made out to be an arrogant buffoon with undeserved authority. Since all these throwbacks are still not enough, the revelation of the villain follows the structure of “When Nature Calls,” where who is originally suspected is a red herring, and the actual villain only comes up towards the end. In this case, Ace Jr. suspects Dr. Sickinger (Cullen Douglas), a scientist and advocate for ugly animals (really), since the baby panda is a good-looking animal. But he’s not the one, and becomes Ace’s ally, as well as the relied-upon driver of an electric golf cart-like vehicle.

Within all this, we also get what are meant to be comedic chase scenes, some set at Universal’s Islands of Adventure (credited as Universal Orlando with big banners shown), with part of the Jurassic Park ride queue disguised as the outdoor property of a dinosaur institute. The security guards at that institute are naturally idiots, and a swift kick to the balls by Ace Jr. fells one of them.

What else could be expected? The over-confident and nearly jokeless script gets in the way far too often, and where Evans’s occasionally insightful direction should overshadow the script, he’s swallowed whole by pages that should have been thrown out and rewritten to at least treat kid viewers as more savvy than what’s presented. It’s a minor consolation that Ace Jr. doesn’t bend over and talk through his butt. Only Jim Carrey made that work, as well as the puns that were included.

It’s disappointing that this is the next, and most likely final step of the Ace Ventura franchise. Even more discouraging is an on-set featurette called “All Play and No Work,” where the verbal and physical antics of Flitter and Evans are funnier than the actual film. Just stick with what came first and you can’t go wrong. If you venture into this, you will.

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