Mask, The

Reviewed By Ryan Arthur
Posted 11/02/03 04:08:34

"That girl will tear your heart out, put it in a blender, and hit 'frappe.'"
3 stars (Average)

My initial viewing of The Mask led to disappointment. I was a huge fan of Ace Ventura, and I knew the gist of The Mask would potentially allow Jim Carrey to really cut loose. Imagine my surprise. He cuts loose within the confines of The Mask himself. It's his turn as the alter ego, Stanley Ipkiss, that sunk this for me.

I'm not gonna deny it, and it's obvious to anyone who knows me or reads my reviews: my taste in movies varies widely. So I have no shame in admitting that I like certain movies that most critics hated (like an Ace Ventura, for example), all while joining the rank and file for films that they love. I just like to be entertained.

I was intrigued by the possibilities presented by The Mask: lonely loser stumbles across a wooden mask that is basically a physical manifestation of Loki, Norse god of Mischief (I think that's right - I don't read Thor), transforming said loser into walking, talking id, cranked up to 11. Interesting. Carrey's Ipkiss works at a bank where he's walked on by everyone. Even his friend Charlie (Richard Jeni) knows he's a loser - he seems to hang around Stanley as a way to look better by comparison. So it comes as a bit of a surprise when an attractive new bank customer named Tina (Cameron Diaz, in her first film role) shows an interest in Stanley. Of course, it's all a ruse - she's working for a gangster named Dorian (Peter Greene), and she's just casing the joint for an eventual robbery. Stanley knows she's out of his league...but when he find a simple wooden mask, that all changes. The mask takes over his persona, and Stanley's subconscious manifests a neon green, tooth-filled face on a yellow zoot-suited body. The newly impowered Mask robs the bank in an attempt to woo Tina, setting things in motion. Dorian and the cops both want Ipkiss, and Dorian wants the mask. All Stanley (and therefore The Mask) really wants is Tina.

What I like about The Mask is the unfulfilled promise of it; as The Mask, Stanley is what he is inspired by: he becomes a walking, talking, practically indestructible Tex Avery cartoon, complete with wooden mallets, wolf-whistles (and turning into a wolf while whistling, naturally) and whipping out an arsenal of weapons that would make Rumsfeld blush. It's comedy gold for animation fans (and Avery fans in particular) such as myself, as the folks at Industrial Light And Magic went all out. It helped that Carrey himself was something of a cartoon, and a lot of his facial expressions stayed in, making it something of a unique (at the time) blend of live action and animation. As annoying as "sssssmokin'!" got, the pure mayhem feel of the character seemed to be spot on, and I give Carrey a lot of credit for that.

The problem is that the source material from Dark Horse Comics was always a bit darker. The film version is family-friendly, from Dorian's bumbling thugs down to Stanley's own comic-relief dog. The slapsticky stuff makes me laugh, I guess, but I wanted something with more of a harder edge.

As much as I enjoy Carrey when he cuts loose as The Mask, Carrey as Ipkiss was beyond horrible. Don't get me wrong, I "get" Jim Carrey. But I have no idea why he played Stanley the way he did. It's almost as if he's winking at the audience, and saying "hey, I'm gonna dog it here, because I don't take this part seriously, but just wait..." and he hams up Stanley's average joe, sad-sack loser qualities. He overacts in a role that requires a bit of downplaying (much as he'd later do in Liar Liar in the scenes where Carrey's character deals with his son), and I can't figure out if it was to make the transformation that much more incredible or if he just didn't care enough about that part of the material to put his heart into it (as he was known to do on In Living Color). I got the feeling he was just itching to have Ipkiss spend part of the movie talking out of his ass. I almost would have preferred someone else in the role of Stanley while Carrey released his inner Avery as The Mask, but that's neither here nor there. I can buy the wimpy schlub routine if Carrey's actually going to go that route, but Stanley comes across as a likeable goof who's prone to make faces, not as the doormat he probably should be.

Diaz did well in her debut, showing a bit of sparkle. She's grown as an actress quite a bit since then (some would disagree), and I've always liked her, although a lot of people will see her as just the pretty face. Which was really all she needed to be here, so I guess that's fine for what it was.

As director, Chuck Russell did probably as well as he could given the material. Most of the movie's budget was probably set aside for the effects from ILM, so he didn't have a lot to work with. As a result, Edge City looks like a hybrid between L.A., New York and a studio backlot, so there's not a lot of sense of uniqueness about any of the set pieces or location. Edge City doesn't have the unique architecture of a Gotham City or a Metropolis, so you don't get a sense for what kind of world the characters inhabit. It's just another city with just another superhero. But while Russell's never been overly flashy (he also did Schwarzenegger's Eraser, and later Bless The Child and The Scorpion King), he's at least somewhat capable.

The Mask falls into that realm: not good, not bad, simply there. Occasionally you'll see a glimmer of something that could've been a bit more exciting or even just a little better overall, but it never quite rose above what it is.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.