Saturday, 24 November 2012

Film Review | The Mask (1994)

Jim Carrey has been something of a "marmite" actor throughout his career, and in The Mask he delivers possibly his most love-it-or-hate-it performance of all. Whether you're a fan of Carrey's green-faced whirlwind or not, it's undeniable that this film - along with two more 1994 releases, namely Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Dumb & Dumber - launched Carrey as a major star.

The Mask tells the story of Stanley Ipkiss (Carrey), a milquetoast bank employee growing tired of his luckless and boring existence. His life changes completely when he happens upon an ancient and enchanted mask which transforms him into an extrovert lothario with a toothy, lime-hued visage.

The Mask is from the outset a film of two distinct levels of success. The opening act introduces us to Stanley, his workaday life and timid attitude, as well as his best friend Charlie (Richard Jeni). It's fine, but nothing special. Cameron Diaz - in her feature debut no less - is fine as love interest Tina Carlyle, and Peter Greene as the villain of the piece Dorian Tyrell is again, well, fine. The whole thing does what it needs to, but without ever feeling special. In hindsight it's clear to see that Stanley Ipkiss, above Lloyd Christmas and Ace Ventura, is the breakout role that would cement Carrey as more than just a maniacal force of comedy but as genuine leading man material. But even so, The Mask begins in an overall underwhelming way.

At around the twenty minute mark, however, Stanley puts on the mask and the whole film immediately shifts into another gear entirely. The Mask as a character is so outlandish and blatant that, as has already been acknowledged, he is likely to divide audience opinion. To my mind, he is one of the finest physical comedy creations in cinema. The character pays homage to everything from classic Tex Avery cartoons to the Marx Brothers and Jerry Lewis, with references to a huge amount of classic cinema including Gone With The Wind and The Cincinnati Kid. From the moment The Mask character enters the film, every moment he's on screen is pure gold. Carrey's performance is flawless and comically note-perfect as Stanley's emerald-countenanced alter-ego.

The film essentially ends up becoming the average of these two planes. When the focus is on Stanley's everyday life, things become somewhat less interesting; aside from one or two more entertaining scenes, including one where Stanley consults mask expert Dr. Neuman (Ben Stein, in a pleasing cameo), the film at times feel like it's almost filling in between the appearances of The Mask. But when Carrey dons the green make-up and is allowed to let loose, this is superb. What we end up with therefore fluctuates between the good and the outstanding, but overall is entertaining, thoroughly enjoyable and regularly showcases Carrey at his comedic best.


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