"You son of a mask!" has become Judge David Packard's insult of choice.
The next generation of mischief.
And it'd better be our last generation of mischief, too.
Facts of the Case
Fringe City resident and budding cartoonist Tim Avery (Jamie Kennedy, Malibu's Most Wanted) wants nothing more than to establish success in his career before committing to parenthood with his eager wife, Tonya (Traylor Howard, Monk). It sounds like an admirable plan until his loyal dog, Otis (Bear), plucks a mask from a small stream. Tim can now take his plan, regardless of how admirable it was, and chuck it straight out the window, as parenthood soon descends upon his life in the form of a whirring, crashing bundle of joy. As if it's not enough that Tim is wrestling with his sometimes-creepy kid, he also has to deal with a jealous pooch who has now learned the canine usefulness of the mask, as well as the return of Loki (Alan Cumming, X2: X-Men United) himself, who is tasked by dad and top god Odin (Bob Hoskins, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) to find the mask and return it to its place among the immortals.
Let me start by saying I'm a big fan of the 1994 film that somehow inspired this abomination. Few seem to enjoy that film as much as I do, but over a decade later, it's still a guilty pleasure that never fails to entertain me. In that film, you had Jim Carrey enjoying the best of both worlds: He played it relatively straight as the luckless yet lovable Stanley Ipkiss, then turned it completely loose as the manic titular character. Peter Greene gave a great turn as the dangerous—and downright scary—Dorien Tyrell. It also marked the feature film debut of Cameron Diaz (and really, gentlemen, has she ever looked better?), who oozed into her role as sultry singer Tina Carlyle at the local swing joint. It had a simple-yet-sweet story, tons of genuine laughs, and some impressive special effects work.
So I had very mixed emotions when I first learned that the Hollywood sequel machine was looking to churn out another chapter in the comic book-spawned adventures of The Mask. With the entire original cast jettisoned, Son of the Mask quietly slid into theaters earlier this year. It left almost as quickly and just as quietly, limping straight to DVD. You didn't have to be a film scholar to accurately predict these events—not when the film's trailer always left my fellow moviegoers in stunned silence, save for the occasional embarrassed chuckle or two whispered during that awkward couple of seconds before the next trailer began.
There's a good reason for all of that, of course: this movie just plain sucks. It sucks so much that it almost warrants a new definition of the word "suck" just to accurately convey how atrocious it really is. It's also one of the best examples of a sequel being made for the sole purpose of cashing in on the original; there's simply no further story worth telling. The complete lack of a real second story explains why the most basic components of the first film have been shamelessly lifted as the basis for the flimsy plot structure for Son of the Mask. In the first film, the main character, Stanley Ipkiss, was a cartoon-loving sap with a thankless banker's job. At the end of the day, he always had his loyal pooch, Milo, for companionship. In the sequel, our main character, Tim Avery, is a cartoonist with a thankless animating job. At the end of the day, he always has his loyal pooch, Otis, for companionship.
Of course, we, the audience, are expected to ignore these amazing coincidences. The cartoon thing has to be there to explain the zaniness of the character when he dons the mask, but with Jim Carrey gone, what's the point? So much of Carrey's performance was the man himself roaring through the green makeup and wacky wardrobe with no CGI enhancement needed. I'm not saying Jamie Kennedy isn't a funny guy, but I am saying that Jim Carrey he is not. And let's face it, very few are gifted with Carrey's rubbery, physical chops.
Cartoons were also that character's release, not career. When things were at their crappiest for Stanley, he could throw some cartoons into the VCR and escape from the work jerks and the greedy car mechanics and the lack of a love life and screeching landladies. Tim is an animator not happy with his job; yes, there are scenes that do show his love for animation (he gives a cute flipbook to Tonya in one of the few scenes that actually drew a smile out of me), but his career is in need of a severe jump-start. When Stanley dons the mask, he becomes his release. He becomes a cartoon.
As for Tim? When he first dons the mask for his company's Halloween party, it's—well, painful is the first word that jumps to mind. Kennedy tries his best under the green makeup, orange plastic hair, and toothy grin, but it's almost shocking how much the character has become a shadow of what we're accustomed to seeing. There's no feeling that the character has become complete zaniness, complete wackiness. The character almost appears stilted, going through the motions but lacking that let-it-loose feeling. He's simply…happy. I don't place the blame entirely with Kennedy, either—he does the best he can with what he's been given. In the end, the man is trying to fill incredibly large shoes.
That brings us to the dog. I can only surmise that the folks behind this film figured people wanted to see more of a mask-wearing pooch, so they made it a larger part of the story here. But another dog? Would it have been asking too much to make the Averys, say, cat lovers instead? It might seem like a minor thing to some, but I see it as a lost opportunity to do something a little different. Mask-crazed dog? Been there, seen it. Bring something new to the table.
Loki's new, you say? Okay, I'll bite—bringing Loki to the proceedings was a nice idea, but the way he's been written is a waste. One of the biggest problems with Son of the Mask is that there's no real villain in the picture. Oh, I know the filmmakers would want me to believe it's Loki, but please. Loki is only here because hard-nosed dad is pissed to his singular eyeball that his black-sheep son's creation has caused enough problems among the mortals. Loki really couldn't care less. And so it is that he begrudgingly enters our story, hoping to find the mask purely to make dad happy and maybe even get into the guy's good graces to boot. In the end, Loki comes across as a guy who probably endured his fair share of abuse in the halls of Valhalla High as a teenager.
Having such a weak antagonist adds to the unshakeable feeling that this movie is simply adrift on a sea of bad writing and uneven special effects. Bathroom humor gets plenty of attention. Apparently, Hollywood still thinks it comedic gold when Cute Baby gives Hapless Dad a big ol' blast of urine to the face, and you get it here in spades. Throw in an over-the-top parody of the head-twisting, pea-soup-chucking scene from The Exorcist and a couple of fart jokes, and you get an idea of what's trying to carry this film along. Ultimately, it's the CGI effects that serve as the foundation for the movie, and even they're a bit shaky at times. Much of the look from the original film is here, and while many of the CGI-enhanced baby shots look impressive, others look less than stellar. It appears that what was left of the film's budget not spent on special effects or a decent script was spent on gallons of primary-colored paint and a boatload of blue lights.
So what story is the film ultimately trying to tell? Is it Alvey vs. Tim? Otis vs. Tim? Alvey vs. Otis? Loki vs. everyone? In the end, it's all of those, and it's a big part of why this film fails.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
My son, Sean, thought most of it was a riot. Then again, Sean will turn five years old next month. Look, here's the deal—PG-rated Son of the Mask lacks none of the bite of the original (which garnered a more-appropriate PG-13 rating), and as long as parents are willing to put up with a few scenes of crude antics, younger kids will eat this up. It's 86 minutes of kinetic eye candy, and you probably don't have to worry about Loki giving the little ones nightmares. Parents can always wait until the wee ones toddle off to bed, then view the original and remember this series' happier times.
If extras are your thing, you'll have plenty to choose from on this disc. Most surprisingly, the extras aren't too bad—personally, I had more fun with them than I did the film itself. The deleted scenes feature alone contains a whopping 19 deleted scenes, any of which can be played with director commentary. "Paw Prints and Baby Steps: On the Set of Son of the Mask" delves into the myriad of challenges of working with babies and animals on a film production and includes behind-the-scenes footage of twins auditioning for the role of Alvey Avery, the babies on set, and Bear's fascination with birds. "Creating Son of the Mask: Digital Diapers and Dog Bytes" showcases the special effects, including the transformation of baby Alvey and Otis into digital characters and the influences that legendary animators Tex Avery and Chuck Jones had on the process. Fellow geeks into watching things like lighting reference takes, scene layering, and background plates will enjoy this extra. "Chow Bella—Hollywood's Pampered Pooches" may have you checking to see if you've accidentally switched back over to cable viewing, as it feels very out of place. Still, if you want to see dogs swilling filtered water and watching Animal Planet on a 42-inch flat plasma screens (I'm not kidding), this is for you.
Technically, Son of the Mask's presentation is pleasing enough from both a visual and an audio standpoint. Colors tend to run a bit dark and saturated, but I feel that's due more to an artistic decision rather than a substandard transfer. The Dolby Digital surround is clean, and baby Alvey will put your home theater through its paces on more than one occasion. Overall, the technical quality is what you'd expect from a film that was playing in the local multiplex just a scant few months ago.
Son of the Mask is recommended only for the kindergarten set that will appreciate the crude jokes and non-stop activity. I can't recommend this for anyone else—especially folks like me who hold a special place in their heart for the original film.
Guilty on all counts. It is the court's sincere hope that we will be spared no further adventures of this murdered franchise. Let's let this one rest in the peace it deserves. Court adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
• Commentary with Jamie Kennedy, director Larry Guterman, and writer Lance Khazei
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