Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Somebody Ssstop Him! Jim Carrey's Elastic Mugging Reaches Back into the Tradition of Silent Stars

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Somebody Ssstop Him! Jim Carrey's Elastic Mugging Reaches Back into the Tradition of Silent Stars

Article excerpt

The Hollywood success story of the 1990s has to be Jim Carrey, brilliant stooge, human Gumby and overnight multimillionaire.

Before his 1994 parody "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective," Carrey was yet another ambitious skit comic; now, only 21 months and four movies later, he is box office royalty, with an asking price of $20 million per picture. Even more than Bruce Willis' or Arnold Schwarz-enegger's, his name alone is enough to rock theater attendance records, as it did last weekend, when "Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls" earned $37.8 million -- the highest fall-weekend gross in history.

Quite simply, audiences will queue up to see a Jim Carrey movie, any Jim Carrey movie, dumb dialogue and dumber plot notwithstanding. He himself, and not "Batman" or "Die Hard," is the movies' hottest franchise of the moment.

What is Carrey's mass appeal? It's a visual thing. He is frequently compared with Robin Williams, who also has a racing energy level and a passion for frenetic improvisation. But Carrey is a purely physical -- as opposed to verbal or intellectual -- comedian. His comic ancestors are silent stars like Harold Lloyd and even Buster Keaton, whose stone face was as much a visual instrument as Carrey's rubbery expressions.

While movie comics like Williams, Eddie Murphy and Denis Leary have roots in social humorists like Lenny Bruce, Carrey has very little to say at all. It's the way he speaks, not what he says. His most memorable lines include Ventura's "Allll righty then," and "Sssssmokin"' and "Somebody sssstop me" from "The Mask."

Audiences simply like to ogle Carrey and his extreme motions and gestures. He is eye candy. If you watch Carrey with ears plugged, you can see him sampling the self-grandeur of Norma Desmond of "Sunset Boulevard," the violent zaniness of the Three Stooges, the childlike neurosis of Je rry Lewis, the klutziness of Dick Van Dyke, the bathroom antics of Beavis and Butt-head. …

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