Friday, January 29, 2016

The Mask

3/4

Starring: Jim Carrey, Cameron Diaz, Peter Greene, Peter Riegert, Richard Jeni, Amy Yasbeck

Rated PG-13 for Some Stylized Violence

Sometimes, there's only one actor who could possibly play a certain role.  While James Bond or Batman can change actors with no problem, there's only one man who could play The Mask: Jim Carrey.  With his rubber face and flexible body, Carrey was born (or is that made?) to play this role.  Indeed, director Chuck Russell said that the actor's physical abilities saved the production a lot of money because he was so agile that they didn't need to digitally enhance his movements.

Stanley Ipkiss (Carrey) is the biggest doormat in Edge City.  His life is one attack on his dignity after another.  His landlord (Nancy Fish) is a shrieking harridan who gives him no end of grief.  The bozos at the garage defraud him.  Even his best friend Charlie (Jeni) doesn't take him seriously.  After what was supposed to be a night to remember at the Coco Bongo, the hottest club in town, turns into yet another blow to his self-respect, his "loaner" car breaks down on the middle of a bridge.  There, he sees a man struggling in the water.  Stanley, who is the nicest guy in town, goes to rescue him, only to find that the guy is a heap of junk topped off with a mysterious mask.  But when he puts on the mask, the mild-mannered bank clerk turns into the wild and out of control The Mask.  The Mask, who has no qualms about robbing a bank (Stanley's, in fact) so he can make an entrance to remember, is soon in the sights of Dorian Tyrell (Greene), a vicious mobster who runs the joint, a sarcastic detective named Kellaway (Riegert) and Tina Carlyle (Diaz), the star of the Coco Bongo.

"The Mask" is a comic book come to life.  Not in the sense of "Sin City" or "300" (neither the budget nor the technology could support such an endeavor), but much like the original "Batman" quadrilogy.  Enhanced sets, exaggerated atmosphere, and so on.  It's all very retro.  A lot of this stuff is cliché, but "The Mask" wears it with a badge of honor.  It's meant to be retro and kitschy.  There's something delightfully old fashioned about this movie.  It knows that, in their heart, comics are about larger than life heroes and villains, not internalized, broken individuals with a lot of angst.

When I said that only Jim Carrey could play this role, I meant it.  No one does the wacky outrageousness like Jim Carrey.  His energy and mobility are his most notable qualities, so having him play a real-life cartoon is simply a natural extension of his character.  However, he's also good as the meek Stanley, creating a likable guy for the audience to root for.  Cameron Diaz made her debut here as Tina and it's a good one.  Diaz is a better actress than she gives herself credit for, and not only does she look the part, but she is sweet and understands the concept of comic timing.  Peter Greene turns up the sleaze as the villain; all that's missing is a cheesy nickname.  And Peter Riegert is hilarious as the cynical party-pooper who is on Stanley's tail.  He has some of the best lines and reaction shots.

Russell presents this film as a series of set-pieces to show off Carrey's talents.  It makes sense, since that's the hook of the film and Carrey is so perfect for the role.  It also helps that the connecting material is strong enough that the audience won't get bored by the story.  There are more than a few stand-out moments, such as when The Mask matches wits with some lowlifes as a guy who makes balloon animals.  It's a great intro to the character.  But the best are the dance numbers: The Mask and Tina dancing to "Hey, Pachuco!" and The Mask leading the entire police force into a conga with "Cuban Pete."  They're energetic and a lot of fun.

"The Mask" may not be great art, but it's delightfully old-school and shows Carrey in top form.

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