The Mask

The MaskSynopsis: From Zero to Hero

Jim Carrey (Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events) stars as mild-mannered bank clerk Stanley Ipkiss, who discovers a mysterious ancient mask that brings his innermost desires to wild, screaming life! Now, together with Cameron Diaz (Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, There’s Something About Mary) and his sidekick Milo, this wise-cracking green tornado is taking Edge City over the top in this romantic-action-comedy that will leave you S-s-s-s-smokin’!

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The Mask 8.0

eyelights: its offbeat superhero. its zesty energy. Jim Carrey’s performance. Cameron Diaz’s va-va-voomness.
eyesores: the dated CGI.

“SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSMOKIN’!”

‘The Mask’ is a 1994 motion picture based on a Dark Horse Comics property. Originally slated to be a grittier picture, it was tweaked to accommodate the comedic talents of rising star Jim Carrey. It became one of the highest-grossing films of the year and cemented Carrey’s superstar status.

It tells the story of a meek bank clerk who finds a magical mask and discovers that, when he puts it on, his repressed attributes come to the surface, transforming him into a confident, playful, cartoon superhero. With his new-found abilities, he rights a few wrongs – and also wrongs a few rights.

Unfortunately, in the process, he attracts the attention of both the police and a crime boss. Now he not only has to defend his name, but he has to save his life. But, with the help of his friend Charlie and his dog Milo, he hopes to find his way through – if the mask doesn’t play any tricks on them, that is…

I still remember when ‘The Mask’ came out. I was still delirious from ‘Ace Ventura: Pet Detective‘ and was looking for another taste of the phenomenal Jim Carrey. I knew nothing of the picture’s origins, but I saw the ads, and they were enough to drag me into cinemas – a rare thing even then.

I was blown away. My friends and I both laughed our @$$es off and were awed by the combination of Carrey’s performance and the CGI effects that turned him into a living cartoon character. His insane amount of skill had irrevocably changed the standards by which comic actors were judged.

For a few of years afterwards, it seemed to me that young comedians were trying their best to match or outdo Carrey in their performances; every new character I encountered had to be dialed up, zany to the Nth degree, and somewhat slapsticky. But none of them did it nearly as well.

At the time, Carrey’s extensive physical malleability was such that director Chuck Russell opined that the production saved a fortune on special effects because the star did much of the work for them. He’s good enough that sometimes one can’t tell when he’s being helped by effects.

Unfortunately, when he’s not wearing the mask, Carrey is a bit too goofy, too dialed up, for Stanley to appear like a real person. This sets the picture in cartoon mode right from the onset and it creates little contrast between Stanley and The Mask. He’s good anyway, but he’s just not subtle one bit.

Of course, most of the cast is playing it up in a similar way, so this was either intentional or poorly-directed. The most memorable of the lot is Cameron Diaz, in her debut, smoking up the screen with her curves (back when she still had them). I lost my mind when I saw her back then. Yowzahs.

Another amazing performance comes from left field and it’s courtesy of none other than Milo, his super expressive, jubilant, cute Jack Russell Terrier. How this dog didn’t get second credit is beyond me: he pretty much steals the show when Carrey isn’t on screen. He’s that good!

It had been years since I’d last watched ‘The Mask’ and it was stunning to see how different an impact is has now. Given that its special effects aren’t so special two decades on, I was less wowed by the visuals, even as I still found them compelling. I also found myself laughing a lot less than I remembered.

Instead, I was having fun. Pure, unadulterated fun. Between Carrey and Milo’s infectious zeal, it’s already hard not to. But there are also a bunch of terrific scenes that are a blast to watch, if only because of their vibrancy and zest. I found myself beaming almost straight through the picture.

First comes the initial transformation (which takes nearly 20 minutes!), in which The Mask confronts Stanley’s horrid landlady, an impatient, honking driver, a gang of young thugs (who are hilariously, hopelessly mesmerized by his balloon animal tricks), and the grotesquely dishonest car repair guys.

It’s all utterly ridiculous but it’s such a lovely sense of release, after having seen Stanley get pushed around. You want him to let go, and in this guise he has no compulsion not to. So even though he is causing mayhem, and in some cases major discomfort (Yikes… get me a proctologist!) you root for him.

Then follows a series of hilarious vignettes including the bank heist and his subsequent visit to the club to see Tina (Diaz) perform – only to wind being part of the show. Or their date, which turns into a silly, deliriously absurd musical number involving half of the police force – all enhanced by CGI and cartoon soundbites.

One moment that really stands out for me is The Mask’s mock death scene after confronting our main antagonist, Dorian. It is so exaggerated that it’s plenty risible, but in a deliciously meta moment the filmmakers gave the character a standing ovation at the bottom of the screen (in a ‘MST3K‘ fashion).

It’s a clever and playful moment that’s made even better by his hilarious acceptance speech! Too much!

Granted, ‘The Mask’ isn’t nearly as funny as I’d recalled, but it’s ebullient, playful and fun – and this is probably why I remembered it so fondly. And yes, it plays like a b-movie in ways, with mediocre performance and a limited scope, but it’s all overridden by its ingenuity, its vibrancy and Jim Carrey’s The Mask.

Watching the picture now, it’s hard to imagine that Carrey appeared to blast out of nowhere the way that he did. He wasn’t just good, he was bloody amazing. And yet we simply didn’t see him coming; although he had already made the rounds, doing stand-up and some TV, he was new to most of us.

He took us all by storm (much like The Mask’s dust devil persona).

Even two decades later, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’s the next torch-bearer, who shows even a speck of this talent, of his genius. His star may have fallen some since, but if one looks back at his body of work, Carrey deserved every moment of spotlight that he got. Like him or not, he’s astonishing to watch.

Date of viewing: May 28, 2015

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