Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online since 2004.
What's the big deal?
The Mask is a comedic superhero film released in 1994 and is loosely based on the Dark Horse Comics character of the same name. Directed by Charles Russell, the film depicts a mild-mannered bank clerk who becomes a larger-than-life superpowered individual upon donning a mysterious mask with a life of its own. The film stars Jim Carrey, a debuting Cameron Diaz, Peter Riegert, Peter Greene, Richard Jeni and Amy Yasbeck. The film marked a turning point in Carrey's career as it made him a major star; it also established Diaz as a major star for the future. The film was one of three films in 1994 Carrey appeared in (alongside Dumb And Dumber and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective) and was the most successful in terms of critical reception and box office earnings, taking more than $351 million worldwide. The film would lead to an animated TV series spin-off before a much-maligned sequel, Son Of The Mask, was released in 2005.
What's it about?
Stanley Ipkiss is a mild-mannered and socially awkward bank clerk in Edge City, preferring to share his company with his dog Milo and indulge his love of old cartoons. Finding himself instantly bewitched by the nightclub singer Tina Carlyle, Stanley desperately tries to get into the Coco Bongo club to see her but is rather forcibly denied entry. After his car breaks down on the way back home, he spots what he thinks is someone caught in the water of the harbour but discovers that it is actually just an old wooden mask. Cursing his luck, Stanley heads home—soaking wet and utterly despondent.
On a whim, Stanley puts the mask on and undergoes a radical transformation—his face is replaced by a green-skinned caricature and his sodden clothes have been replaced by a dazzling yellow zoot suit. His personality has also changed, becoming a larger-than-life and ultra-confident trickster with seemingly limitless powers. As he begins to unleash his unique brand of chaos on his tormentors, Stanley is unaware that Tina's mobster boyfriend Dorien Tyrell has plans for the mask for himself—namely to overthrow his boss and become an unstoppable crime lord...
What's to like?
It's a rare thing for any actor to find the role that they were born to play but it's difficult to envisage anyone else but Carrey playing the lead role in The Mask. He is just electric in this film, ramping up his rubber-faced clown act to maximum and just tearing throughout the film to glorious effect. Of course, whether you like this sort of thing or not depends on your taste but it works much better here than it does in his other films like Ace Ventura or Liar Liar. His routine is enhanced by the amazing CG on display which still holds up all these years later. Thanks to the unhinged nature of the character (or the screenplay), the film openly invites ideas that allow the character to engage with us—whether it's a Tex Avery-inspired wolf-man in love or a mallet-wielding lunatic silencing his alarm clock.
But despite his limelight-hogging, Carrey doesn't dominate the picture the way you might think. Diaz is a revelation as the undeniably beautiful Tina, introduced in a shot that reminds viewers of a more family-friendly take on Ursula Andress' timeless introduction in Dr. No. It might not be the deepest role but she simply shines opposite Carrey's goofball antics. I also have to mention the excellent work put in by the dog Max who played Milo, making the mutt a character all of his own. The film itself is the right blend of colourful cartoon madness and gritty crime thriller which, on paper at least, might seem an odd couple. But The Mask is happy to play with convention, becoming an over-the-top comedy that will probably appeal to younger viewers more than adults.
- Director Russell revealed that a lot of money was saved on the special effects after Carrey was cast. As the comedian's movements were already wild and flexible, he felt there was no need for CG to enhance them any more. Carrey brought lots of improvisation to the role including the scene where he pulls a wet condom from his pockets after being chased by thugs.
- Among the many actors considered for the role of Stanley Ipkiss were Matthew Broderick, Keanu Reeves, Mike Myers, Robin Williams, and Rick Moranis. Carrey's fee for this role was $450,000 which was considered a bargain as it was signed just before Ace Ventura became a surprise hit—his fee for his next film Dumb And Dumber was $7 million!
- Diaz was just 21 when she appeared in the film, having auditioned twelve times to get the part. Studio New Line Cinema didn't want her in the role due to her lack of acting experience but Russell was so insistent that he threatened to walk away from the project if she wasn't cast.
- The film is a marked departure from the original comics, which have a much darker and adult-orientated tone. In the comics, the mask turns people into a psychotic killer known as Big Head who murders his enemies in gruesome fashion for little to no reason.
What's not to like?
As I've previously discussed, your appreciation of this film depends on whether you can stand Carrey overacting like his very life depends on it. This is a world away from his more serious roles like the excellent The Truman Show or Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. I will admit, I prefer Carrey when he's not acting like a toddler after too many jelly beans but that side of him works here because of the character and narrative. Realistically, you could argue that this role forced him to become typecast for a while, and without it, he may not have sought more serious roles at all in an effort to break away from the green-faced menace.
The film is also a world away from the original comics, which are far darker and less family-friendly in tone (although later editions matched the more comic tone of this film). But seeing as they weren't exactly pushing Marvel characters in terms of popularity, I'm not too concerned about this discrepancy although fans of the comics won't be so forgiving. There is no denying that the film is obviously marketed more for children than it is for adults but the film still has plenty of nods for older viewers. But I have to question whether the film is suitable for very young children as the film still has some darker moments while many of the references and in-jokes will go over the heads of younger children these days who aren't as familiar with the cartoons of old, sadly. And while the CG and effects still impress, I have no doubt that there could really push the boat out these days and really go buck wild with the technology available today. Perhaps one day, we'll get that proper adaptation of the comics after all...
Should I watch it?
Easily one of the most recognisable films of the Nineties, The Mask is as unhinged and wacky as its lead character. It might not be as revolutionary as it once was but thanks to Carrey giving one of the performances of his career and Diaz staking her claim to superstardom, this rollercoaster ride of a film is still worth checking out if it's somehow passed you by. Sssssmokin'!
Great For: families with older children, Cameron Diaz's career, immature senses of humour, dog lovers.
Not So Great For: fans of the original comic character, very young children, anyone taking themselves too seriously
What else should I watch?
For all his success, Jim Carrey has been a somewhat divisive actor for some time. Few can seemingly go from serious actor to irritating man-child from one film to the next the way he does and in truth, he actually excels at both. The trouble is, some films can get things wrong - I was never a huge fan of Dumb And Dumber myself although it is still popular enough for a recent sequel, Dumb And Dumber To. Personally, Carrey in man-child mode is best suited to The Mask and Liar Liar, a screwball comedy where he plays a lawyer magically compelled to tell the truth for 24 hours, no matter how much he tries. But as a serious actor, he has earned plaudits for films such as the aforementioned Eternal Sunshine... and one of my favourite movies The Truman Show, a powerful fantasy where he plays a man who discovers that his entire life has been fabricated for the purposes of a TV show.
These days, superheroes have become synonymous with three letters: MCU. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has overturned the stigma comic book adaptations previously held, becoming a global phenomenon that continues to dominate box offices with megahits like Avengers: Endgame, Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther. Long-time rivals DC has since launched their own shared universe of movie titles but have struggled to match the critical acclaim many Marvel pictures seem to reach although audiences have still flocked to see the likes of Aquaman and Wonder Woman. Perhaps they should look to Christopher Nolan's excellent Dark Knight trilogy which remains the benchmark for exciting, enthralling and gripping adventures featuring anyone with a cape.
Stanley Ipkiss / The Mask
Lt. Mitch Kellaway
Release Date (UK)
19th August, 1994
Action, Comedy, Fantasy, Superhero
Academy Award Nominations
Best Visual Effects
Razzie Award Nominations
Worst New Star (Carrey)
© 2021 Benjamin Cox