Be warned, the sight of Judge Clark Douglas in a zoot suit will make you weep.
Our reviews of The Mask (1961) (published December 3rd, 2008), The Mask 3D (1961) (Blu-ray) (published November 27th, 2015), and The Mask: Platinum Edition (published May 17th, 2005) are also available.
From zero to hero.
Facts of the Case
Stanley Ipkiss (Jim Carrey, Dumb and Dumber) is a sweet, mild-mannered banker who is generally well-liked by everyone. "Stanley, you're such a nice guy," they all say. Yeah, they all say that. It's more or less true, but Stanley is still unhappy. It seems that most beautiful women aren't all that interested in nice guys. They want someone dynamic and exciting. Looks like Stanley and his friendly dog are going to be stuck by themselves for quite a while. Ah, but then something happens. Something always does. A gorgeous woman (Cameron Diaz, There's Something About Mary) enters the bank one day, and Stanley simply can't help himself. He falls deeply, madly, truly in love with her at first sight. He knows that this woman is surely out of his league, but hey, he can't stop his heart from going haywire.
After something of a failed attempt to demonstrate his affections for the woman, Stanley is just about ready to give up. Just when he's hit bottom, he finds something strange floating in the river. It's a mysterious wooden mask. Stanley is intrigued by the mask, and decides to bring it home. Eventually, he decides to try it on, just for fun. Before you can say, "Tex Avery homage!" Stanley is transformed into a maniacal whirling dervish of fun…he's the lean, green, fun machine who will soon be known to all as, "The Mask!" Will Stanley's newfound powers help our hapless hero get the woman of his dreams? Will he be able to stop a group of nasty gangsters who are threatening to take over the town? Will he eventually learn some meaningful life lessons about learning to embrace the man beneath the mask?
Is the heyday of the wacky comedian over? It's really hard to imagine a film like The Mask being greenlit today. During the 1990s, wildly energetic comedians like Jim Carrey and Robin Williams rose to the top of the box office again and again. Though some viewers (myself included on occasions) found such hyper comedians to be rather annoying, one has to admire the sheer physical effort they put into their performances. Though I'm perfectly fine with the fact that mad energy and broad pop culture impressions have segued into cool snark and casual pop culture references as we have headed into the 21st Century, there's still something to be said for a movie like The Mask.
Created as something of an homage to the late, great animator Tex Avery, The Mask combines about 50 minutes of standard-issue comedy plotting with another 50 minutes of charming slapstick comedy. However, one doesn't really notice a vast disconnect in terms of quality here. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, star Jim Carrey is responsible for this. As Stanley Ipkiss, he is appealing in a somewhat low-key (for Carrey, anyway) sort of way. We like Stanley, and that helps us get through the ordinary mask-free scenes quite well. When Carrey is playing The Mask, he's certainly inventive and funny, but not particularly likable. I don't know that I would want to spend an entire movie with that guy. Even so, those sequences are directed with considerable skill by Chuck Russell. He manages to genuinely evoke the spirit of some of those old Tex Avery cartoons, rather than merely creating a hollow imitation (Space Jam, anyone?).
The Mask won good reviews for its technical achievements and for Carrey, but today it is perhaps best-remembered as the film that introduced a talented young actress named Cameron Diaz to the world. Diaz had never been in a motion picture before, and was working as a model before she was given the lead female role due to a strong audition (included as an extra on the disc). Rarely has an actress been given such a splendid cinematic debut. Diaz enters the room to much fanfare, wearing a show-stopping red dress, and the whole movie screeches to a halt just to admire her. Composer Randy Edelman quickly chimes in with a lusty orchestral piece that is more than a little reminiscent of the theme for Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? The comparison seems appropriate. As for the rest of the performance, Diaz plays the part with warmth and confidence. It's easy to see why she became a star overnight.
For some completely unfounded reason, I didn't expect The Mask to look particularly great. Maybe the fact that it was a comedy from the mid-1990s had something to do with it. My viewing of The Mask came immediately after a viewing of the Dumb and Dumber Blu-ray disc, another Jim Carrey comedy from the same era that looked pretty weak. Perhaps because The Mask is much more special-effects driven than the average comedy, it receives a rather fine hi-def transfer. Blacks are nice and deep throughout, and the image is pretty much blemish-free throughout. No scratches or flecks here. Faint grain is evident here and there, and facial detail is somewhat weak in contrast to background detail. Even so, The Mask looks sharp overall. Audio is perfectly adequate, if a little unremarkable. Randy Edelman's cheesy score is well-balanced with the sound effects, though occasionally a piece of dialogue will be drowned out a bit.
Supplements are ported over from the previous special edition DVD. Two commentaries lead the pack. First up is an informative solo track with director Chuck Russell, who proves to be capable of carrying the whole thing by himself. This is followed by a jam-packed track with Russell and a whole host of technical experts who give specific info on how special effects were created. Rather dry, but informative if you're into that sort of thing. "Return to Edge City" (27 minutes) is a decent making-of featurette, while "Cartoon Logic" (13 minutes) discusses Tex Avery's influence on the film. "Introducing Cameron Diaz" (10 minutes) is a look back at the star's screen test, and "What Makes Fido Run" (10 minutes) devotes equal time to the dog. Two deleted scenes and a trailer wrap things up. Not a bad batch.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The film runs out of steam during its third act, when the Mask switches hands and is controlled by someone with considerably less comic skill. Additionally, the Jekyll and Hyde plot outline is pretty cookie-cutter stuff.
The Mask is light fun that still holds up reasonably well. It's worth checking out, and the hi-def transfer is just barely strong enough to merit an upgrade. Even so, some new supplements to sweeten the deal would have been nice. Most viewers will probably be better off giving this disc a rental. If you happen to love the film, please, for the love of all that is sacred, avoid seeing the awful sequel Son of the Mask. Fair warning.
The court somewhat begrudgingly acknowledges that this disc is not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
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