Jim Carrey never shied away from odd content, which was part of what made his performances so memorable. That included everything from the surreal mindscapes of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to Ace Ventura climbing out of a rhino's sphincter. The actor recently stated that he had retired from the business and that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 would be his last onscreen appearance, which feels of a kind with the plethora of weird roles throughout his long career.
But the strangest moment in one of his films came well before he became a movie star and even before he first came to national attention on the sketch show In Living Color. It was The Dead Pool, the fifth and presumably final entry in Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry franchise. Carrey appeared in a small supporting part that turned out like nothing else yet put onscreen. Much of it entails context after the fact, but even so, it's something very different.
The movie is strange in and of itself and better than it has any right to be. The Dead Pool flirts with open self-parody as an older, slower Harry Callahan hunts a serial killer targeting local celebrities. The "dead pool" of the title refers to a betting pool created by Liam Neeson's sleazy director Peter Swan, speculating on which celebrities will die before a given time. The winner is the player who picks the most dead celebrities; the murderer starts picking off the names on Swan's list as a way of getting even. Besides Neeson and Carrey, the film also features a pre-fame Patricia Clarkson -- filling a film about killing celebrities with a number of celebrities in waiting.
That's suitably nutty already, and it comes amid Eastwood actively poking fun at one of his best-known characters. His signature one-liner, for instance, "you're shit out of luck," couldn't be played on commercials promoting the movie, while the showstopping chase scene entails an open parody of Bullitt as a tiny remote car laden with explosives chases Harry through the streets. To top it all off, Guns N' Roses released their album Appetite for Destruction a year earlier and made a cross-promotional appearance in the film, which features Slash firing a giant harpoon gun that Harry finally uses to bag the killer.
Carrey becomes the straw that stirs the drink early in the proceedings when all of the various pop culture elements come together in a uniquely bizarre way. He plays Johnny Squares, a drug-addicted rock star making a music video for Swan's film and someone who Swan has put on his "dead pool" list. The killer injects Johnny with a concoction after the singer has already taken heroin, leaving him dead of an overdose in his trailer for Harry to start picking up the pieces.
But it's the scene that precedes it that draws the modern eye as Johnny tries and fails to film a shot from his music video. It starts with Carrey -- dressed as a priest and looming over the bed of a young woman in a deliberate rip-off of The Exorcist -- grinning at the camera while the opening strains of "Welcome to the Jungle" play on the soundtrack. He quickly launches into a full-bore lip-sync, complete with gyrating hips and the kind of rubbery facial expressions that became standard issue in his later comedies. And yet, it's all supposed to be serious. The woman's head begins to spin before it explodes, forcing Swan to cut the take and Johnny to demand time in his trailer to "get it together" by shooting up. The sight of Neeson sporting a ponytail and speaking to Carrey with a middling cockney accent just adds a surreal cheery on top of the sundae.
Beyond the coincidence of two big-name stars appearing while they were both working actors mixed with the sounds of Guns N' Roses enjoying the first blush of superstardom, it's the whiplash between comedy and drama that makes the scene stand out. Carrey is as funny as ever, except he's supposed to be serious. Yet, the film itself is self-satirical, except when it's not. That rapidly shifting tone combines with the performers, The Exorcist trappings and Dirty Harry of all characters hovering around in the background to create a moment of sheer pop-culture insanity. As zany as Carrey could get, nothing he did got as quite off-the-wall as his performance in The Dead Pool.