Reviews: The Mask

An odd mix of things that somehow works.

Have you ever wanted to see a superhero story where the lovechild of Mr. Hyde and a Looney Tunes character, by way of an object like Goosebumps' Haunted Mask, is the protagonist? Probably not, right? But this film provides that, and it has a surprising amount of success with the idea.

Stanley Ipkiss is an awkward loser type who loves cartoons and struggles to have a social life. When he comes across the titular Mask, a Norse artifact that takes over and allows you to live out your innermost desires, he turns into the screwball cartoon protagonist he so loves and wreaks havoc in his city. The homage to classic cartoons is done perfectly. Stanley as The Mask is an obnoxious little shithead who always comes out on top with disguises, slapstick and cartoon logic, and it's a delight to watch due to how right they got it. He'll change outfits in the blink of an eye or pull exaggerated performances, all of which, of course, fool his targets to let him escape. The "Mr. Hyde meets Joker" look is also really good.

The plot of the film is really a backdrop for the titular character/gimmick and a showcase for the effects (which are good to this day, due to the cartoon thesis). Stanley is caught up in a bank-robbing conspiracy with the city mob, and he has to figure out who he should really live as. It's entertaining enough, and there are some good moments outside of the Mask's delightful smartassery.

Stanley himself is okay, I guess. It's hard not to see why he hasn't exactly been popular with the ladies due to his awkward, childish interactions with people, but he's still a good guy and the Mask ultimately brings out some needed confidence. I do sort of like that he's still just an ordinary guy, and needs more than what he has to save the day, instead of somehow being gifted with the skills he needs.

This film is a lot of fun, especially to cartoon fans. While very different from Who Framed Roger Rabbit, it serves as a nice companion.

Retrospective, 20 Years On

Last week I got a powerful urge to watch The Mask. Kids probably don't know today, but this was a hugely popular franchise of the 90s, launching Jim Carey and Cameron Diaz's careers, and providing schoolkids with a dozen new catchphrases to repeat ad nauseum. But its also a film that seems to have since completely disappeared from the historical record. I can't remember the last time I saw this movie on TV, and that's what really made me want to check it out again.

The Mask is dated, both on purpose and by accident. On purpose, in the sense that a lot of it serves as a tribute to Tex Avery cartoons, right down to a literal wolf-whistling protagonist, rescuing a bodacious dame from a tuxedo wearing mobster. It's also dated by accident in terms of characterisation. The protagonist is Stanley Ipkiss, the classic "relatable" loser who hates his life and can't get a girl. Though through a modern lens we can see that he actually has a nice enough standard of living and doesn't deserve anything, least of all a girl. It turns out he wrote an article entitled nice guys finish last. Fair enough that phrase has been around forever, but a decade of internet feminism has taught us that the kind of people who say that are self-entitled jerks, not kind-hearted heroes.

Opposite him is Cameron Diaz's character, who's name I can't remember despite being able to quote every line of this movie. Early on she comes into a bank and giggles something about how she doesn't understand figures and numbers. Her role in the story is to be sexy, to fall in love with the hero, and to be imperilled. We still have such characters, but there have been vague efforts to camouflage it by making the woman sassy or good at kung fu. I'm not used to it being so transparent. It's by no means as off putting as the transphobia of Ace Ventura, but it still looks odd.

Another thing that hasn't aged well is the CGI. It has done better than other movies of the era by eschewing realism and going down a 3D cartoony route. Actual cartoons would have aged a lot better, and here the dated effects calls attention to itself, whilst basis for a lot of the weaker jokes.

The Mask is a Jim Carey vehicle. Jim Carey is a walking paradox; on one hand he is a wonderfully talented and versatile actor, but on the other he always plays the same character in every movie. Whatever the writer originally intended the story to be, when Carey is added to the mixture the movie immediately becomes a silly slapstick comedy. That's not so much a complaint, because a huge amount of the big laughs are from Carey's rubbery, facial contortion and gift for impressions. It does however explain how this movie might have got neglected. It has been made redundant by the dozen other Jim Carey plays Jim Carey movies since. I had some laughs, but sadly there just isn't anything he's doing in The Mask he doesn't also do in the more up-to-date, A Series of Unfortunate Events.

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