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Looking at Jim Carrey's career, one can surmise that he's had two distinct phases so far: his comedic phase, most notably personified by 1994's The Mask, and his serious phase, most notably personified by 2004's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Now, however, with both Kick-Ass 2 and The Bad Batch, we appear to be on the cusp of a new career phase for Carrey - that of the weirdo. But is this turn a good idea?
These types of characters are certainly in Carrey's wheelhouse. The actor has, in a sense, always played weirdos and people who are set a little bit apart. Take, for example, his breakout role in the 1994 film The Mask. Stanley Ipkiss is not particularly weird, but the Mask-wearing alter ego is very strange, wearing flashy suits, exaggeratedly expressing every emotion, and spouting one-liner after one-liner. Even going back to his time in In Living Color, one of his most famous characters in the show was Fire Marshall Bill, a character who was his own brand of odd. Cycling through his other notable comic roles, from The Riddler in Batman Returns to the titular character in the first two Ace Ventura films, all find him playing a certain level of weird to comedic effect. In many ways, looking at those past roles indicates strongly that this phase was always coming.
But is going weird in non-comedic performances a smart idea on Carrey's part? It remains to be seen if commercial audiences will take to him in this phase the way they did during his comedic phase, during which time he became such a big star that numerous films simply needed his face on the poster to succeed. His turn to dramatic performances in Phase 2 hasn't been as successful as his early career, as most of the movies have faded away, with only a few critically acclaimed ones standing the test of time. It should also be noted that the critically hailed films didn't match commercially, so even when he was good in Phase 2 of his career, it didn't always translate to box office success.
However, it is important to note that Carrey seems to have fallen out of favour with the viewing public even when he revisits his comedic days. Dumb and Dumber To, the sequel to one of Carrey's more recognised comedic efforts, earned just over $86.2 million domestically, a far cry from the $127.2 million the first film made. Bruce Almighty garnered over $242.8 million at the box office, whereas Mr. Popper's Penguins, the last film to feature Carrey in the lead role, topped out domestically at $68.2 million. His dramatic efforts have never been commercial successes, with I Love You, Phillip Morris, his last effort, earning just over $2 million. A change would appear to be necessary if Carrey wants to get back in the good graces of the viewing public at large; thus, this new phase of his career does seem to be a good way to do so, or at least not an idea that's as financially risky as it may seem at first glance.
Critically speaking, if his performance is good, he'll be acknowledged for it. Both prior phases of Carrey's career have netted him acclaim and disdain, and how Phase 3 shakes out critically for him is entirely dependent on how well he fits into non-comic weirdo roles. Which is the big question here. Can Carrey pull these roles off?
Carrey's role as Colonel Stars and Stripes in Kick-Ass 2 certainly falls into this mould, but ironically, it doesn't go weird enough. Carrey's limited screentime in the film is part of the problem, as there isn't enough time to delve into the full weirdness of the character, or expand him beyond a collection of tics and eccentricities. But more than that, the character himself is thinly sketched, though Carrey does the best he can with the material, with an odd laugh, a noticeably huskier voice and distinct accent, and leaning into the character traits that set him apart from others. There's some indication there that Carrey may have the skills to play such a character, but the guidance of a good script is sorely missed.
Which brings us to The Bad Batch. Ana Lily Amirpour directs the movie with a clear idea of who her characters are and what drives them. In this situation, Carrey fits in excellently. Playing someone who's credited in the film as “The Hermit”, Carrey is an omniscient figure who watches over what happens in the desert, seemingly appears to those in need, and doesn't say a word throughout (a case could possibly be made, depending on how one interprets the movie, that he's a version of God). Carrey pulls this off, allowing his body language to communicate what he wants to convey, and working effectively with the tone of the film as a whole. Unlike his role in Kick-Ass 2, Carrey here isn't simply an assortment of eccentricities, and he deserves credit for that as much as Amirpour does.
Carrey is capable of these roles, and can even be excellent in them, which is an encouraging sign. However, the key to him performing well is to have a firm grasp on the character, which is something that'll have to come from the filmmakers. The success of Carrey's Phase 3 will thus be dependent on the types of filmmakers and quality of the scripts he chooses to work with. If they fall closer to The Bad Batch than Kick-Ass 2, it may not be long before we have another new film to add to the list of memorable Jim Carrey performances.