Three big Jim Carrey films fell apart in quick succession in the mid-noughties – and we’ve taken a look at what happened, and what could have been.

In the aftermath of the success of the wonderful Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Jim Carrey found himself at something of a career crossroads. He was being taken increasingly seriously – and rightly so – as a straight actor, after powering to fame off the back of a string of megahit comedies. Yet films such as The Truman Show and Man On The Moon had recalibrated audience expectations a little, whilst Eternal Sunshine ­– the 2004 movie written by Charlie Kaufman, directed by Michel Gondry and co-starring Kate Winslet – was a high point for all concerned.

What, then, to do in the aftermath of that? Double down on the serious roles? Alternate between comedy and drama? Or go all in on more dramatic movies? Carrey, it seems, was having a little trouble deciding.

Hollywood stars, I should note, frequently juggle projects, and movie development hell is littered with promising star vehicles that never saw the light of day. What’s interesting about Carrey in the mid-2000s though was that three projects pretty much in a row fell apart.

By the time Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind hit, he was already deep into a pair of further films. The comedy Fun With Dick & Jane, a remake co-starring Tea Leoni, did solid box office, yet hardly ranked high in the Carrey boxset. More liked was Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events, a well-reviewed movie that made its money back but little besides that. A real pity, that.

Three projects then presented themselves, as the movie industry moved a little away from star power, and Steve Carell was becoming the go-to for casting directors looking for a comedy lead.

First up was Used Guys. This would have been a venture into science fiction for Carrey, and it got quite far along the metaphorical path. 20th Century Fox was backing the project, and at the start of 2006, it got to the point that a release date was earmarked. The film was due on May 25th 2007, which would have put it into direct competition with Shrek The Third, Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull and Spider-Man 3.

But it had a fair bit of collateral in its corner. As well as Carrey, Ben Stiller was set to co-star, and Meet The Parents and Austin Powers helmer Jay Roach was to direct. A spring 2006 start date was earmarked too, and a $100m budget was drawn up.

The plot? It would have been set in a future where women rule the world, because men have screwed it up so much. Men, instead, are clones traded like cars. Carrey would have been “the keep the woman up all night model”, and Ben “is the safe model”. “They’re searching for a place called Mantopia, where men can still be me”. Don’t tell Todd Phillips. The project, Roach later revealed, would have been similar in tone to the brilliant Idiocracy, but it was ultimately the budget level that killed it. Fox had second thoughts, given the star salaries involved and the physical sets required, and it was put into turnaround. It’s still said to be bubbling around Hollywood development.

 Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, then, was another possible project. This would have seen Carrey play adventurer and discoverer of the obscure, Robert Ripley (whose name, of course, adorns museums around the world). A cross between biopic and adventure movie, the film was set to cost $175m to make, and had some pedigree again to it.

For starters, Ed Wood screenwriters Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander (they’d also penned Man On The Moon) had written the script, and Tim Burton was attracted to it, to the point where he signed on to direct.

This, too, got incredibly close to production. Burton had scouted locations to shoot in China, and virtually all of pre-production was complete. But around a week before filming was set to begin, Paramount Pictures got cold feed, and pressed pause. The problem? This time, it was Carrey. That he had ideas to improve the film, that would have required a significant enough restructure. Burton liked the ideas, but the film’s acceleration was arrested and never recovered. Paramount acted, and Burton was promptly hired to make Sweeney Todd by Warner Bros.

The project nearly found fresh life a few years later, but again it couldn’t get across the line. And subsequently, the idea of a major studio gambling nine figures on a non-franchise film has become something of a folly.

But Carrey still had another project on the stove. This one was a comedy called A Little Game at the end of 2006. It would have brought Carrey back together with his The Mask co-star Cameron Diaz. The plot followed the pair as a couple who pretend to split up, just to see what people do. Gabriele Muccino  was set to direct, having just about completed work on The Pursuit Of Happyness, starring Will Smith.

A Little Game was set to be a remake of the French movie Un Petit Jeu Sans Consequence from 2004. Focus Features got to the point where it was talking about a release date of August 10th 2007 for the production, and filming would have begun in October 2006.

But it didn’t.

Instead, a week or two before filming was set to start, the two stars and the director quit the project. Focus Features tried to sort out a script rewrite to try and retain the talent involved, and recruit a new director. To lure two such high profile stars to a relatively modest production had been a real coup, but both Carrey and Diaz weren’t entirely happy with the third act of the proposed screenplay. The subsequent rewrite work didn’t help, and the two stars duly left. They did not return.

It marked three notable projects in a row that fell apart for Carrey, and the one film he did get off the ground in that period didn’t really work out. He gambled on a change of direction by starring in the Joel Schumacher-headlined thriller The Number 23, and it’d be fair to say that was a film that neither lit commercial or critical fires.

Thus, he would go back to more Carrey-style comedy, with Yes Man (a film I’ve got quite a lot of time for), and gamble on the underseen and underrated drama I Love You Phillip Morris. But after making a couple of family features, his film output would decrease in the subsequent years. In fact, his role in this year’s Sonic The Hedgehog is his first film credit in four years.

Those three abandoned projects, meanwhile, are still bubbling away somewhere in the vaults of Hollywood. The chances of any of them seeing the light anytime soon are slim, however. But never say never…

Lead image: BigStock

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