Mask, The (United States, 1994)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

I never thought it could happen. Jim Carrey (star of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective) upstaged -- and not once, but twice! While it's true that The Mask is another vehicle for the rubber-featured modern-day amalgamation of Jerry Lewis and the Three Stooges, this time around Carrey has some competition, and there are a number of scenes where he ends up playing second fiddle.

The special effects are, for the most part, rather impressive, but they're as frequently guilty of overwhelming the star's performance as complimenting it. Nevertheless, if you think Carrey has an expressive face, wait 'til you see him with the mask on. Eyes pop out and jaws drop -- literally. ILM goes to work with their own version of live-action animation whenever anyone dons the mask. Good costumes and make-up serve only to enhance the computer-generated visuals.

And, even as the audience's attention is arrested by the work of the effects wizards, there's still room for a canine scene-stealer. Milo (whose real name is Max) is the perfect foil for Carrey's goofiness and -- yes -- there are occasions where his animal antics divert the spotlight away from his two-legged co-star.

Carrey, meanwhile, is playing a split role: mild-mannered Stanley Ipkiss and his superhuman alter-ego, the Mask. Stanley is a shy, unassuming man who works in a bank and lives with Milo in a small apartment. One day, following a terrible bout with Murphy's Law, Stanley finds a curious-looking mask floating amidst some debris in a river. Later, at home, when he finally gets around to trying the mask on, Stanley learns that this isn't some archeological curiosity. It has power - the power to transform. From the moment the mask clings to his skin and his face turns green, Stanley's personality undergoes a radical shift. Insecurity is replaced by flamboyance. Physically, there seems to be little that he can't do, from twisting his body into a pretzel to taking a bullet in the chest or forming a tommy gun out of a balloon.

While wearing the mask, Stanley makes a comment about becoming a superhero, but he's really interested in one thing: Tina Carlyle (Cameron Diaz), a voluptuous nightclub singer who works for a local gangster (Peter Greene). Following a bank robbery (to finance his wooing), the Mask discovers that a cop, Lt. Mitch Kellaway (Peter Riegert), is hot on his trail. And it's not that difficult a trail to follow. After all, how many lime-faced bandits are there who move like the Warner Brothers cartoon Tasmanian Devil?

Carrey plays Stanley with surprising restraint, giving his zaniness free reign only when the mask is on. In some ways, it's a Clark Kent/Superman thing. Stanley and the Mask might share the same body, but they're very different. One is a typical nice guy who finishes last. The other is Robin Williams' genie from Aladdin come to life (Carrey provides dozens of whirlwind impersonations).

As a comedy, The Mask is genial, but its recycled plot is far too thin for the film to succeed as either an adventure or a spoof. "Comic book" and "cartoon" are two terms that come to mind for describing this movie. Neither is intended to be pejorative, but each conjures certain apt images.

For me, Ace Ventura was too much concentrated Jim Carrey. In The Mask, the forceful personality is diluted. The star is mostly-subdued except during those off-the-wall bursts of energy that accompany the appearance of the Mask. The film is entertaining enough -- in a light, undemanding sort of way -- but more than the combined efforts of Carrey, ILM, and Max are demanded to camouflage the seams and holes still apparent in this production.

Mask, The (United States, 1994)

Director: Charles Russell
Cast: Jim Carrey, Peter Riegert, Peter Greene, Amy Yasbeck, Cameron Diaz, Max
Screenplay: Mike Werb
Cinematography: John R. Leonetti
Music: Randy Edelman
U.S. Distributor: New Line Cinema
Run Time: 1:41
U.S. Release Date: 1994-07-29
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1