Comic Book Movies 101: The Mask

Plot reminder: Stanley Ipkiss (Jim Carrey) is a bank clerk who is sneered at, bullied and let down one too many times and contemplates throwing himself off a bridge. Instead, he discovers a mask and is transformed into his alter ego, The Mask. Whilst under the transformation, he robs a bank just as the mob are about to and continually foils their attempts to get the money. The love interest, Tina, is played by Cameron Diaz who does what she’s supposed to, which in this case is to look pretty. The two of them foil the mob, fooling the police into thinking that the mob boss was The Mask the whole time, and live happily ever after, sans the evil mask, which has been thrown into the river.

This is a signature Jim Carrey film and there is no doubt that anyone else could play this role. The over the top, over-zealous manic energy that was and is Jim Carrey’s trademark is never more potent than in this film. Here Carrey is able to showcase every gag, every accent and every impression he’s ever thought of in one place.

Carrey as the Mask is so over the top that it means that none of the human characters really have a convincing shot at portraying themselves as anything other than bit characters. Cameron Diaz, an otherwise decent actress, doesn’t really get to flesh out her character and I’m not convinced when they get together at the end. Even Carrey as Stanley Ipkiss, the mild mannered alter ego, just doesn’t quite ring true. I guess the real problem is that the over gesticulation, the zany faces and all funny voices are all Carrey and we can’t get away from identifying him every time, we’re never immersed in the character.

The best sequences are the elaborate all-dancing, all singing ones. Anyone who’s watched the film will remember Carrey’s dance duet with Diaz at the nightclub as an exuberant and the whole mood is infectious and up-beat. For those of in the UK and in the days before strictly come dancing, something new. Another scene that brilliantly sums up Carrey’s hidden wit is the French seduction scene: “I will reveal my croissant. I will spread your pate! I will dip my ladle in your vichyssoise!” – even when I watched this the first time round and didn’t quite know what he meant, it was funny because the delivery is perfect. The Cuban Pete sequence is pure comedy entertainment. When the Police start swaying their bums to the music, while all still aiming their guns at him, it’s genuinely very funny.

In a sense, that sums up the whole film: funny. It isn’t charming, heartfelt, we don’t identify with any of the characters, and there is no character progression or arc. I’m not sure if I can go into a meaningful description of the mob boss or the detective. They feel as though they’ve been written in as a wall for Carrey to bounce himself off of. The film doesn’t concern itself with these things and its attempts at teaching us that you should always be yourself are fairly half-hearted. It is a vehicle for Carrey to go wild and as a result is that it’s funny, but nothing more.

Fortunately for The Mask, it does funny very well. The Masks face turning into a wolf to wolf whistle, his French style seduction techniques, his onslaught of machine guns firing to reveal a ‘Bang’ flag are all cartoon tricks we know well.  We laugh because it works, it’s worked for years. Adult audiences enjoy this film because of the cartoon and film referencing that people can identify with, I think that’s clever.

Its success comes from employing all these tricks to a human-esque figure. In fact the animation is more than that. It allows Carrey to push his performance to the extreme and I get the feeling that this is how he sees himself in the real world. Its cartoon violence is permissible because it’s a cartoon. It’s obviously benefitted from the advances in the six years since Who Framed Roger Rabbit? The cartoons tricks are integrated nicely and are an essential part of the character.

This is a great film for those who have the energy to keep up with the pace. If not, then you are going to find it exhausting. I’m going to have to put myself in that group. It is funny, there are some really good referencing to other films, which are fun to identify. But that’s not enough to sustain a whole film. I feel that this film is perfect if you’ve got a short attention span and need your films broken down into chunky, easily digestible bites.

The film works as part of the trilogy of films Carrey released that year, Ace Ventura and Dumb and Dumber being the other two. It’s popularity at the time and now depends on a tried formula. So if you liked those, chances are you love this – Carrey on steroids.

I’m not such a big Carrey-the-crazy-guy fan. Don’t get me wrong, Pet Detective is hugely entertaining and I’ve hurt myself laughing at it. But all those films feel like a bit on the Jim Carrey show. Where he really shines is in his serious films like The Truman Show, Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind and the absolutely brilliant The Number 23. If you’re looking for loud entertainment and you need something to entertain a young audience, this is a pretty good bet. Otherwise, you should probably sit this one out and wait for The Number 24, like me.

Maliha Koro

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