Son of the MaskReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 02/19/05 21:16:51
In one of those weird coincidences that define the life of a film critic, I found myself in the course of one day watching both “Downfall,” an unflinching epic-length look at Adolph Hitler and his inner circle during the final days of the Third Reich, and “Son of the Mask,” the long-delayed sequel to the 1994 film that proved that Jim Carrey’s success in “Ace Ventura’ was no fluke and which also introduced audiences to the literally eye-popping delights of both the latest wave of CGI technology and the flesh-and-blood charms of newcomer Cameron Diaz. I can honestly say that if I had to choose between seeing either one of them again in my lifetime, I would pick the Nazi movie in a heartbeat because while it may be an unrelenting grim and unsparing look at the end times of one of the most horrific events in human history, watching it would be a cakewalk compared to the idea of wasting another 86 minutes of my life on one of the most desperate, lifeless and laughless movies I have ever seen.Still here? Well, to start with, aside from the gimmick of a mask that essentially turns whoever wears it into a cartoon character who can follow all the rules of cartoon physics, this film has absolutely nothing to do with the first film (and even less to do with the grim, gory comic book that inspired that film in the first place). It shouldn’t be a surprise that neither Carrey or Diaz chose to appear in this film–each one’s normal per-film salary now presumably outweighs the entire budget of the first film–but no one from the first film, either in front of our behind the camera, could be inveigled to return for this installment, aside from a cameo from the entirely repressible Ben Stein. In a career that has seen Stein serve as both a tireless apologist for former employer Richard Nixon and as the man who introduced the nation to Jimmy Kimmel, this particular credit will doubtlessly be the first thing that he drops the next time he decides to brush up his resume.
Instead, the film introduces a new bunch of presumably cheaper actors, led this time by Jamie Kennedy. For those unfamiliar with Kennedy, he is probably best known (admittedly a relative term) for a hidden-camera TV show that he had a few years ago in which he would dress up in “wacky” disguises and pull “outrageous” pranks on “unsuspecting” people. While the humor was supposed to come from his alleged genius at creating wild characters, the joke, from the bits that I would catch during commercial breaks during “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, really seemed to come from the fact that his disguises were so thoroughly unconvincing and that he appeared to be the only one unable to recognize that sad fact. He creates the same effect here; he desperately tries to channel the manic energy that Carrey brought to the role but only comes up with a third-rate impression that starts off unfunny and only gets worse as things progress; watching him here is like being trapped at a water cooler on a Monday morning with someone who insists on acting out an entire “SNL” sketch that you a.) saw for yourself two days earlier and b.) didn’t think was very funny the first time around.
Anyway, Kennedy plays a would-be animator named Tim Avery (a “tribute” to the immortal Tex Avery, who is no doubt looking down upon us and wondering what sins he could have committed to deserve such an honor) whose wife (Traylor Howard) inexplicably yearns to bear his spawn and whose dog, Otis, somehow comes across the mask and drags it home. Because Tim is a dope, he does what anyone would do when confronted with a strange, filthy mask that his dog retrieved from God knows where and brought home clenched in his equally dodgy jaws–he decides to wear it to a Halloween party. The mask transforms Tim into a wild dervish who blows the roof off the party (and by that, I mean it makes him recreate the very same things that Carrey did in the first film–popping eyeballs, musical numbers and the like–with only trace amounts of the energy and enthusiasm contained in the original) and who then goes home to impregnate the wife (although the mind boggles at the notion of what the mask could conjure in the bedroom, the details shown are slightly less risque than those seen in an old Dean Jones epic). The very next day, in fact, the pregnancy is confirmed and when Mommy immediately begins throwing up (perhaps in sympathy with the audience), she inexplicably regurgitates soap bubbles. That part I don’t question (well, I could but see no point to it); what I do question is that no one–Tim, his wife or even the obstetrician–seems to think that this is at all odd or unsettling.
Thankfully, the film wisely skips over any more details (which might have made the oeuvre of David Cronenberg seem light-hearted by comparison) and gives us baby Alvy, who apparently has been genetically encoded with the powers of the mask; basically, he can inflate his head like a balloon, projectile-urinate and imitate the frog from the classic cartoon “One Froggy Evening” (a “tribute” to the immortal Chuck Jones, who is no doubt looking down upon us, yadda, yadda, yadda). The only worthwhile aspect of this bit is that it allows the filmmakers to kill time with long clips from the original cartoon; it is always a pleasure to see this seven-minute masterpiece of wit in any form, but to see it in the context of something this vile and wretched is truly disconcerting, sort of like having Gene Kelly dancing and singing in the rain in the middle of a snuff-porn film.
This is all prelude to one of the most mystifyingly conceived and executed sequences I can ever recall enduring in any film. Otis (and yes, since the dog in the first film was named Milo, we are supposed to be amused that the two dogs are named after the characters in the little-seen kid film “The Adventures of Milo and Otis”) becomes jealous of the attention given to Alvy and decides to put on the mask himself and use its powers to get rid of the infant. That’s right, a good chunk of screen time is devoted to watching a dog trying to kill an infant. Of course, I understand that while watching a dog giving dynamite to a toddler and somehow getting blown to bits himself, I was meant to be thinking of the old Road Runner/Coyote cartoon. The trouble with that is that in those films, those characters were clearly cartoons and therefore inhabited a different plane of existence where such things were plausible. Here, however, while there is never any doubt that the dog and child are, for the most part, both improperly rendered CGI creations, the baby retains enough human-like qualities so that the sequence basically looks like a creepy dog trying to murder an actual infant in cold blood. Look, I am not someone who is that sensitive to the cinematic sight of a child in peril (I still laugh at the thought of the various perils that little Nathan Jr was put through in “Raising Arizona”), but if I wanted to watch an Australian-lensed film in which a dog tried to kill a baby right under the nose of an oblivious parent, I would put “A Cry in the Dark” on my Netflix list.
Let’s see, “Son of the Mask” has already displayed feeble actors trying to recreate something that made people laugh 11 years ago, cut-rate special effects and a sense of humor that veers between the questionable and the simply appalling. These elements would be enough to make even the hardiest moviegoer beg for mercy, convinced that there truly is no balm in Gilead, but I have forgotten one other item–the grim spectacle of a generally reliable actor embarrassing himself mightily for the sake of a paycheck; because this film does nothing in small measures, it gives us two of them, Alan Cumming and Bob Hoskins. The former plays Loki, the Norse god of mischief who created the mask and instilled it with his powers while the latter plays his grumpy father, who threatens to banish his issue if he doesn’t retrieve the mask because it has wreaked too much havoc on Earth. That both have done much better work in the past is not surprising. That it is impossible to conceive of any situation in which Alan Cumming could believably play either the Norse god of anything or the offspring of Bob Hoskins is also a given. That this is the worst film that either one has ever participated in goes without saying–and bear in mind, both of them appeared in “Spice World.”
Instead, I found myself focusing on the sad desperation in their eyes as they went through motions that they could never have believed would result in anything remotely resembling entertainment. Hoskins almost gets away with it because he a.) barely appears in the film and b.) when he does, he is usually hidden underneath a fake beard. Cumming isn’t so lucky and goes through his motions with the resigned air of an actor who once worked with Stanley Kubrick and who is now reduced to playing Loki in “Son of the Mask.” Often times when watching a good actor in a bad movie, you get the sense that he or she only took the part to pay the rent that month. At a certain point, perhaps the moment when he transforms a nosy neighbor into a giant nose (who then inevitably sneezes with icky results), you can almost seem him making a mental note to call his manager to look into getting a smaller, cheaper apartment in order to avoid such indignities in the future.In a way, a film like “Son of the Mask” almost defies criticism because any attempt to fully conceptualize just how repulsive it truly is might have a boomerang effect and inspire some masochists to seek it out to see if it can possibly live up (or down) to its description. Sometimes, such films can be amusing to watch (like the recent “Alone in the Dark”), but that is not the case here. For anyone still tempted to discover this for themselves, let me save you a lot of time and simply state that, among other things, this is the single most depressing film that I have ever seen featuring the song “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” on the soundtrack–and yes, I have seen “The Deer Hunter.”
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