Published Mar 17, 2013That The Mask was based on an underground Dark Horse comic series of the same name was almost completely overshadowed by its position as the second film in Jim Carrey's massive coming out party of 1994. All eyes were on the rubber-faced comedian following the unexpected success of Ace Venture: Pet Detective, so any concern about how the source material was toned down for mass consumption was lost amidst the din of a lucrative star rising.
The Chuck Russell directed version of The Mask played up the Tex Avery-inspired aspects of the series, giving the film a live action cartoon feel at the expense of the ultra-violence of the comics. Thusly rendered, the story of a magical mask that strips the wearer of all social inhibitions, giving the id complete control, became fun for the whole family and a perfect platform for Carrey's wacky mugging.
Even before he dons the Norse trickster god Loki's mask, Stanley Ipkiss (Carrey), a prototypical nice guy pushover, has the exaggerated mannerisms and calculated inflection Carrey built his career on. Once he dons his green face and gigantic chompers, there's no stopping his bombastic mania.
It's not just random shenanigans driving the action, though. Simply structured and targeted at a young audience, The Mask is all about set up and payoff. All of the embarrassments Ipkiss suffers are paid back with interest after he gains superpowers and loses the ability to control his darkest impulses.
His bitchy landlady, the mechanics gouging him on car repairs and the bouncers who toss him in the gutter at the Coco Bongo club all get their comeuppance once Ipkiss is empowered to stop eating shit with a smile.
One of the few welcome alterations to formula is how the love interest angle is spun. Typically, the mob affiliated sex-pot (Cameron Diaz, in her debut) would be the wrong tree to be barking up, and the sweet reporter (Amy Yasbeck) would be the woman our hero ends up with, but that's not the case here. Not that it really matters much to the moral of the story, but playing against expectation is always welcome, especially in a film where every other element is so damn predictable.
Cliché-ridden and exceedingly silly, The Mask hasn't aged well, but for what it is, it's harmless fun.
The Mask screens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of the Comic Book Heroes retrospective at 1pm on March 19th, 2013. (New Line)