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  Mask, The Alter Egomaniac
Year: 1994
Director: Chuck Russell
Stars: Jim Carrey, Cameron Diaz, Peter Riegert, Peter Greene, Amy Yasbeck, Richard Jeni, Orestes Matacena, Tim Bagley, Nancy Fish, Johnny Williams, Reg E. Cathey, Jim Doughan, Denis Forest, Blake Clark, Joely Fisher, Robert O’Reilly, Nils Allen Stewart
Genre: Comedy, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: At the bottom of the ocean near Edge City, a diver has been working on a pipeline when he uncovers a mysterious box on the sea bed. It springs open and something floats out to the surface, something green, wooden and face-shaped: a mask of unknown provenance. Meanwhile, there lives in the city a meek bank clerk called Stanley Ipkiss (Jim Carrey) who is the world's doormat, not to mention more than occasional punching bag. He prides himself on being a nice guy, but this just sees to it that everyone takes advantage of him, be that at work or anywhere else, he can't even get a date though he bends over backwards to be accommodating. So what would a meeting between Stanley and the mask create?

Jim Carrey was already a star at the movies, having served a long apprenticeship in comedy both on the stage and on television, thanks to his surprise hit Ace Ventura: Pet Detective which in spite of much resistance from the critics (who kept comparing him to Jerry Lewis, and not in a good way) tickled the funny bone of the mass audience. He was the biggest new name on the silver screen humour scene since the heydays of Steve Martin or Eddie Murphy, and it was The Mask that consolidated that newfound celebrity, winning over many who had dismissed him before as making his antics not simply cartoonish, but actual cartoons thanks to some ingenious uses of the best in CGI effects around at the time.

We're now used to seeing such implementation of computer graphics in all sorts of films, but more often than not they are meant to craft a convincing reproduction of a stunt or fantasy or even setting, which was what made the results in The Mask so refreshing, as they were supposed to appear exaggerated, unreal and to an extent, grotesque, as if when Stanley puts on the mask he's found in the river he has turned into a character from the Golden Age of American animation. Which was precisely the idea, harking back to the work of the likes of Chuck Jones, Frank Tashlin and especially Tex Avery who prized extreme irreverence and an anything goes attitude to generating laughter.

So the Mask, whose catchphrase is "Smokin'!" presumably because so many of the characters are puffing on coffin nails, is an Avery-style wolf in one scene, in another he's leaping about like Daffy Duck, and later he's putting on a show for his personal amusement as Bugs Bunny would do, all recognisable to the audience who had grown up with the originals for a good fifty years. Indeed, the whole movie paid tribute to the fashion in comedy from the nineteen-forties, from references to war orphans to having Carrey and co-star Cameron Diaz (in her debut) stage an elaborate dance to Latin jazz. Yet that was laced with contemporary business, to update that approach and not simply make a slavish recreation of the pop culture of the past; many times that just isn't pulled off no matter how sincere the attempt, but here thanks to an obvious skill with recognising how to meld the two successfully, The Mask was often hilarious in its steely-eyed anarchy.

The plot barely mattered, simply your basic good guys against the gangsters set up of countless superhero flicks both before and since, but the wish-fulfilment angle of much of that genre was unmistakably present and correct. Stanley may be useless when he's himself, but when he puts on his new acquisition (as long as it's night time) he becomes everything he wanted to be: strong, quick-witted, confident, a hit with the opposite sex and able to express himself in outrageous ways, though since the mask just takes parts of the wearer's personality and exaggerates them, all that was inside him already, and he takes the rest of the movie to realise that. Wisely, director Chuck Russell and his team made certain that Carrey was the star of the show, but didn't neglect two other roles: Diaz as the singer and moll was appropriately dazzling, someone for Stanley to aspire to winning, and his pet dog Milo was a scene stealer in himself, a Jack Russell called Max who worked with Carrey even better than the menagerie had with the star's previous effort. He never agreed to a sequel, in spite of this being his best comedy role, which wisely never sullied its legacy and left you wanting more. Music by Randy Edelman.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Chuck Russell  (1954 - )

American genre director who worked for Roger Corman before making his own movies, first as writer of Dreamscape, then helming Nightmare on Elm Street 3 and The Blob remake. Jim Carrey vehicle The Mask was a blockbuster, and he followed it with less impressive Eraser and The Scorpion King, then a string of lower budget, lower profile efforts.

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