Sunday, February 20, 2005

REVIEW: Son of The Mask

This is the sort of movie that, given the conditions of it's release (i.e. as the only new mass-market family film opening opposite an R-rated action/horror movie) and the overall impression left by every shred of it's marketing, gives any film critic reason to pause and consider if he should really even bother with it. After all, almost no-one thinks it will be good, and even less people than that really care. The math is simple: If you've got kids, and they want to go see a new movie this weekend, you're probably going to see this, and "liking" it is irrelevant. So, really, there's no reason for a review. This is cinematic fast-food, a "McMovie," and it's opening-weekend money was made the moment it was greenlit.

Then, of course, we critics remember that if we start acknowledging that on some movies our work just isn't necessary, people might start to question if our work is "necessary" on ANY movie, and we can't very well have that. So we review it anyway.

The original "The Mask" is best remembered, imo, as the shrug-inducing low end of the mid-1990s Jim Carrey arrival-impact, (spanning roughly "Ace Ventura" to "The Cable Guy",) an unremarkable superhero spoof featuring an ancient Norse mask imbued with the power of Loki (Viking god of mischief) which brings to life the exaggerated "inner self" of anyone who wears it. In that film, the wearer was Stanley Ipkiss, (Carrey,) who was a fan of Tex Avery cartoons and thus who's "mask-self" was a human cartoon, a small triumph of Carrey's own rubberfaced talents blended with the latest in CGI. Oh, it's also where we got our first good look at Cameron Diaz, back when she had a figure. Remember?

The problem posed immediately to any sequel to such a one-man show of a movie is that, almost ten years later, the original star is now well beyond this material. Granted, this might provide the ideal opportunity to find and launch a whole new "next big thing" physical comedian, but the producers here have taken the low road: Mining the original backstory for a story just convoluted enough in which all the best-remembered gags from the original can be replicated. So the story picks up with Loki (Alan Cumming... no, really, Alan Cumming) being pressured by Norse God Allfather Odin (Bob Hoskins) to find and retrieve The Mask before it causes more trouble. A surprising amount of screentime is somehow needed to establish all of this, in a series of painful scenes that serve chiefly to kill any chance of Marvel Films getting a good "Mighty Thor" movie off the ground any time soon.

Meanwhile, The Mask finds it's way into the hands of struggling animator Tim Avery (Jamie Kennedy, and har-har on the name) who dons it and turns into a staggeringly bad imitation of Carrey's mask-persona at an office Halloween party. (the franchise mythology has been, I guess, reconstrued so that the cartoon-esque powers are simply Loki and thusly The Mask's "default setting," so I guess Ipkiss's toon-fetish in the original is now just an odd coincidence) In the first of many scenes that will have your kids asking plenty of awkward questions during the ride home, he keeps the mask on when he heads home for post-party sex with the wife, leading to the nine-months-later birth of Baby Avery, who has all the powers of someone wearing The Mask without having to wear one. This causes the Avery family to pop up on Loki's radar, just in time for Mrs. Avery to be called away on business leaving responsibility-phobic Tim alone with the baby just at the same time the big bosses at work are finally asking to see his Big Idea for a cartoon show and... oh, to hell with it. Lots of stuff that's not funny happens, over and over again, until everyone reaches the end of their painfully transparent character arcs and all learn Important Lessons.

With all that "story" going on, the film manages to devote most of the long 2nd act to a B-story in which Tim's dog Otis dons The Mask (in a repetition of the only thing from the Mask anyone remembers other than Carrey or Cameron Diaz's late, lamented cleavage) and battles superpowered Baby Avery for the attention of Tim, who's also (for some reason) getting the "One Froggy Evening"-treatment from the baby. (The old Looney Tune with the singing frog only one guy knows about, remember?)

If nothing else, "Son of The Mask" serves as a helpful primer on how difficult the art of slapstick really is. It's a thin line to walk between "funny horseplay" and "cruel, unfunny violence," and this film approaches that line with the approximate precision of the Incredible Hulk trying to program a new wallpaper onto his cellphone. Scene after scene features gags that would compell the Three Stooges to telephone Child Services: In one scene, Tim tackles his wife thinking her to be the shape-shifting Loki. There's a way to make that funny, but here the gag plunges into astonishing mean-spiritedness, with Tim pummeling his wife and repeatedly slamming her head to the floor before realizing his error. Charming. In another, Tim nearly electrocutes Avery with a broken, electrified lightbulb he's sleepily-mistaken for a milk bottle. People, I laughed when Tom Green spun a newborn over his head by it's umbilical cord, and even I don't think there's a universe where that's funny.

It seems astonishing to say, but "Son of The Mask" is even worse than it's trailers made it look. Along with the ghastly-misteps of slapstick noted above, it's incoherent and none of it's jokes land very well if at all. It's junk, trading cheaply on memories of a decade-old hit that wasn't all that good to begin with. It may be futile for you parents out there to try and avoid it, but you should still try. This isn't just a bad movie, it's bad for you. (And, honestly, I don't think the kids are going to like it much either.)

FINAL RATING: 1/10.