ComicsAlliance Reviews ‘The Mask’ (1994), Part Two
Chris Sims: Welcome back to ComicsAlliance vs. The '90s and our in-depth review of 1994's The Mask, starring Jim Carrey, Cameron Diaz and a healthy amount of mid-90s CGI. When we last left off, our pal Stanley Ipkiss was in a heap of trouble, with the police investigating him and a bunch of crooks after his alter-ego. Can even his endless arsenal of catchphrases save him?
Matt Wilson: It's really just two catchphrases, repeated. I think the intent was for every line of dialogue Big Head says to be a catch phrase, but only two shook out.Chris: I admire the commitment to accuracy that has led you to refer to him as "Big Head."
Matt: That's his name! At least in the early comics, anyway.
Chris: So what you're saying is that "The Mask" originally referred to just the mask, and not the character, which would make The Mask the 1994 equivalent of Watchmen? A bold statement, Matt, and one that I'm sure our readers would love to debate with you.
Matt: Chuck Russell is certainly no visionary like Visionary Director Zack Snyder.
Chris: True. Anyway, back in the movie, Stanley Ipkiss has shown up for work after a rough night of being shot at and making out with Cameron Diaz (some parts were a little more stressful than others, one assumes), walking right into another lecture from his boss. This time, however, he is having none of it.
Matt: Stanley threatens Mr. Dickey with a federal investigation of what would seem to be embezzlement. I suppose that subplot got cut out?
Chris: Could be, or it could just be that we can assume that some shady stuff was going on. I mean, so far every single business we have seen in Edge City has had a heaping helping of corruption go along with it, whether it's the scam mechanics or the hot new nightclub that is actually the secret lair of a crime boss.
Matt: True enough. Charlie congratulates Stanley on his sick burn and presents him two tickets to a charity benefit at the Coco Bongo Club. Two points: 1) Isn't that probably the last place Stanley would want to go at this point? 2) Why are all tickets in Edge City just colored pieces of cardstock? Usually tickets to things look a little more... official.
Chris: Also, it's a little weird that the Coco Bongo Club is going ahead and having a charity benefit after there was an actual gunfight with a monster there last night. Tyrell and his thug were shooting up the bandstand! A dude LITERALLY DIED THERE.
Matt: None of these questions will be answered. If you were wondering where Tina was, though, she's back at the bank to tell Stanley she won't have that money to open that account she wasn't going to open to begin with, anyway. Stanley takes Tina upstairs to tell her Big Head is an "old college buddy" and he can set up a meeting with him. What college was it, do you think?
Chris: Considering Peter Riegert's presence and the Mask's penchant for utter destruction, I'm going to guess it was Faber.
Matt: I had my money on the School of Rubbery Knocks. Tina agrees to a meeting at a park and Stanley takes his mask to Mask Expert Ben Stein, who identifies it as a mask of Loki. Weird how it turns him into a green-faced zoot suit guy instead of someone who teams up with aliens to try to take over the city.
Chris: We get a crash course in the history of Loki that completely neglects to mention Journey Into Mystery #85 and is therefore an epic fail, and Stanley attempts to prove that he's being possessed by the mask by shoving it onto his face in Ben Stein's office and gyrating for about two minutes past the point where it's funny.
Matt: Stanley theorizes that the mask must only work at night, which has been the case so far. Then, in a moment of complete desperation, he asks Stein what to do about the meeting with Tina, whether he should go as himself or the mask. Stein offers some psychobabble BS and off Stanley goes to the park, to meet a girl he likes with a briefcase in hand.
Chris: Not just "the park," Matt: Landfill Park, one of my favorite gags in the entire movie. I know this is actually something that happens in real life, but the idea that Edge City is so filthy that its only park is built on a landfill, and that the leftover methane emissions caused a local aurora just cracked me up when I was a kid.
Matt: That is some choice '90s eco-humor right there. Kellaway and some other cops are also on-hand to take down Stanley when he maskifies, which he does after some stilted conversation with Tina. The result is a Pepe Le Pew cartoon come to life, which is quite discomforting.
Chris: It really is! The first thing the Mask does once he transforms is rub up on Diaz until she gives him a knee to the junk, and he continues his cartoonish seduction for a really, really long time while she keeps scrambling away with no dialogue. It's the exact setup from the cartoons, but seeing it with people is... hoo boy.
Matt: His entendres are very PG-13, too. It's basically a huge relief to see the cops come over and cuff Big Head so this doesn't become I Spit on Your CGI Grave.
Chris: I also like that Stanley's attempt to hide his identity is literally just ducking behind a nearby bush and then re-emerging as a bright green, super-horny Jim Carrey.
Matt: There's a loud crash and a flash of light and everything.
Chris: The Mask gets arrested, and the cops spend a good amount of time on the really great gag of emptying his gigantic zoot suit pockets of all their cartoon punchlines. The bit where they pull out an actual full-sized bazooka and Carrey's response is "I have a permit for that" is solid stuff.
Matt: Of course, that's immediately followed by Big Head comically smacking the cops, looking right at the camera and saying, "That's gotta hurt!" So they evened the score up there pretty fast.
Chris: I dunno, I'm pretty partial to Riegert's exasperated "Doyle!" at his partner becoming a recurring gag.
Matt: Big Head cartoon-runs out of the park and closes up the gates, boarding them shut in a Marx-Bros-style sped-up comedy bit. He turns around to see dozens more police cars in front of him and his skull pops out of his head, literally. One of the better sight gags, I'd say.
Chris: And as you might expect, this is followed by a musical number. An actual, full-on musical number with costumes, set to "Cuban Pete" by Desi Arnaz.
Matt: The street set for this sequence is as stagey and fake-looking as it can be, but when you're this far removed from reality, it kind of works.
Chris: I mentioned last week that I wasn't sure how well this movie would hold up, but I really do kind of love how much they're committed to making this huge live-action 90-minute Looney Tunes cartoon. Not just in the gags like The Mask nailing the park gate shut, but the way it's paced, with the musicals kind of showing up out of nowhere. Even the bits where he gets the hookers (who are standing around while every cop in the city is leveling a gun at this due) to sing along just feels like some weird Friz Freleng gag.
Matt: One major difference between Looney Tunes and this, though, is that Looney Tunes had lush, well-orchestrated music. When "Cuban Pete" ends, what we get here is a karaoke bar equivalent of rollicking salsa music.
Chris: I'm willing to forgive that, but only because of the Cop/Hooker/Big Head chorus line that erupts out of it. Full-on musical, man. Full-on musical.
Matt: Once the singing's all done, Stanley books it into an alley and voluntarily takes off the mask, which seems to be a new thing he can do at will. The cops follow him, but Peggy's there to pick him up and drive him away while the cops take shots at the car. Doyle's "I missed him" line is pretty good. He may be the unsung hero of this movie.
Chris: I would totally watch a movie about Doyle and Kellaway investigating wacky crimes. Peggy takes Stanley to a newspaper warehouse to hide out, working a seduction that turns out to be a con as the door is thrown open and our old pal Dorian Tyrell strolls in. That jezebel!
Matt: The old reporter working for the gangster angle! That's...not really a thing, I don't think. But it's a twist.
Chris: I do like how it inverts the usual superhero formula, though, with the wholesome Lois Lane character turning out to be a money-grubbing Judas, and the vampy gangster moll turning out to be the nice girl after all.
Matt: Tyrell's men dangle Stanley over the press, despite Tyrell's insistence to Peggy that he wouldn't hurt him. Tyrell asks how to use the mask, Stanley says to just put it on, which he does as tiny storm clouds gather above his head.
Chris: The whole thing where Stanley is almost killed by a newspaper printing press is so comic-book-deathtrap that I expected William Dozier to bust in with some narration, but Stanley's predicament gets infinitely worse when Tyrell dons the mask and becomes Big Head II: The Revenge.
Matt: My main question is this: Why does the mask make Stanley's hair disappear, yet it gives Tyrell more hair? Is that some kind of Loki trick where the movie flouts its own rules?
Chris: It also makes him super-buff and lets him keep his own personality, even though Stanley-Mask is essentially Stanley-shaped and super weird.
Matt: Stanley's mask works off his subconscious and his obsession with cartoons. It just makes Tyrell bigger and a tad more evil. Anyway, his goons tear into Stanley's apartment and start gathering up the money from the bank. But Milo the Dog is on the case.
Chris: The bad guys drop Stanley off with Kellaway and Doyle, who toss him in the hut so that he can give a teary speech to Milo, who's waiting loyally in the back alley with an ample supply of sad music. The next day, Cameron Diaz comes to visit in prison - a move that I think made this the most popular movie in the history of the prison system - raising the question of just how she found out that Stanley was in jail so quickly.
Matt: Or how visitors in this particular jail get to just come and talk to people through the bars.
Matt: To go back for a second, Kellaway found proof of Stanleys Big Headedness by reaching into his jacket pocket and pulling out a floppy robber mask. As if that thing was clearly what incited all those costume changes and eyes-popping-out-of-head takes.
Chris: And musical numbers. Stanley tells Diaz that because he's "a little repressed and a hopeless romantic," the Mask turned him into a "love-crazy wildman." Which is a very, very polite way of describing that whole incident at Landfill Park.
Matt: And yet, Tina thanks Stanley for "treating me like a person and not some sort of party favor." He just treated her like a person who could be thrown around like a ragdoll on a dance floor or to harass in a park. NICE GUY!
Chris: She talks about how she fell in love with "the guy inside the mask" that night at the club, when I don't believe they ever actually spoke to each other. It was just super-swing dancing and a kiss that exploded her shoes. Not exactly a conversation.
Matt: There is also the actual line "It was you all along" and a heavy-handed play on the "kiss" in Stanley's last name. It's a rough scene. Soon enough, though, Tina's outside, being ominously followed by the lead singer of Live.
Chris: This would be the thug who is totally bald except for a braided ponytail (AWESOME LOOK), whose name is "Orlando." He's my second-favorite character, just under Doyle and right above Kellaway.
Matt: Inside the jail, Stanley hears Tina's screams and begs the guard to help her. The guard grouses at him, so Stanley calls on Milo to jump up to him. Meanwhile, Tina's confronted by a maskless Tyrell.
Chris: This confirms Stanley's theory about how the mask only works at night, a rule that just popped up out of nowhere over halfway through the movie. Storytelling!
Matt: Tyrell absconds with Tina, who he has discovered is trying to get out of town. Milo makes his jump up to the jail window, and Stanley sends him over to get the keys. He gets some swiss cheese the guard had just sitting around instead. I think you were onto something about people (and maybe animals) in Edge City just being able to generate stuff out of thin air.
Chris: As Stanley is making his escape, Tyrell and Diaz (wearing the '90sest dress we have seen thus far) are on their way to the club with a gigantic box of explosives in the back of their limo. Now... Did I miss something here? Is there a reason Tyrell wants to blow up the charity ball, or has this never been brought up before?
Matt: Niko does want to kill him, and he's the actual owner of the club. That's what I supposed was the reason.
Chris: Seems like a pretty extreme reaction to a guy knocking a golf tee out of your face, but I'm not a gang boss. Yet.
Matt: Extreme reactions are sort of Big Head's deal, though he's just plain old Tyrell now, so who knows. Milo eventually gets Stanley the keys, and he lets himself out of the jail cell, knocking out the guard along the way and taking his gun. Kellaway shows up and Stanley forces him to escort him out of the police station as his "prisoner."
Chris: This plays out every bit as cartoonishly as anything else in the movie, with Stanley holding the gun behind his back while cops just walk around him.
Matt: Tyrell, now Maskified, tears into the charity ball to exact revenge on Niko. He does this by telling his men to shoot him. Not sure why he'd really need the mask for that. But then he makes use of it by absorbing a few bullets and shooting them back at Niko out of his mouth.
Chris: It's worth noting that Niko totally screws up pulling his gun out of his holster, and they leave in the shot where he's fumbling with it, because second takes are for squares. Meanwhile, Stanley and Kellaway are heading over, and when Stanley says they're already late for the ball, Kellaway replies that the White Rabbit and the Mad Hatter are going to be so disappointed. That was a tea party, Kellaway. The ball was in Cinderella. Second drafts are apparently also for squares.
Matt: Kellaway's daughter must hate storytime. Now that Niko's dead, it seems like all of Tyrell's motivation should be sapped up, but here he is, telling guys to shoot down a big piggy bank full of money for orphans and tying Tina to a sculpture and setting up explosives. Also: The thing the mask seems to exaggerate most for him is his accent. His clothes are just bigger, much like him. But his Noo Yawk speech pattern is way exaggerated.
Chris: "It's impohtant to go out wit a BIG... BANG!" Finally, Stanley has arrived and in the absence of his Loki-powers, he's turned into Skinny John McClane, knocking out a guard off-screen and popping around a corner with a gun in each hand before stealthing his way across the casino to confront Tyrell-Mask and save his lady-friend.
Matt: Tyrell sounds like Diamond Dallas Page, Christopher Walken and a voice-altering filter had a baby. Stanley instructs Charlie to sneak people out of the club, and soon enough he's caught by one of Tyrell's men just as they set the bomb to go off in 10 minutes. And look! Milo's on his way inside now!
Chris: Desperate to save herself and Stanley, Cameron Diaz starts in on a PG-13 seduction, asking for one last kiss and then specifying that she wants it to be from the maskless version of Tyrell after he waggles a Venom tongue at her.
Matt: Tyrell removes the mask and honors the request as Tina works her foot out of the tape the goons used to tie her up. Who uses tape, anyway? She kicks the mask out of his hand and Milo grabs it.
Chris: In glorious slow motion, no less. Stanley and Tyrell get in a fistfight as the countdown continues and you know, I honestly thought the bit where Milo the dog puts on the mask was from one of the DTV sequels. It is not. It happens here, and it happens now.
Matt: There was only one sequel, and it had a Baby Mask. That and the animated series were it. Anyway, the mask succeeds in making the dog obnoxious, too. In fact, Tyrell is the only character who maybe became more enjoyable with the mask on, and that was mainly because of his voice.
Chris: Stanley gets the mask back from Milo after some awkward pretending-to-interact-with-thin-air CGI, and then pops back transformed after the bad guys unload their uzis at him with no effect. They then start to reload, even though it has been well established that the Mask cannot be harmed by their pitiful human weapons, because they are somehow even dumber than the guys who throw guns at Superman.
Matt: Big Head pulls a bunch of cartoon guns (that only really have "bang" flags in them) on the bad guys, and they run off. He heads over to Tina, where he swallows the bomb in the most disturbing CGI shot of the movie.
Matt: All the while, he's spouting catch phrases, but not his own. OTHER PEOPLE'S.
Chris: It's kind of amazing that we don't get a Fire Marshall Bill reference in this one. It's kind of the perfect time for it, right?
Matt: New Line just couldn't secure the rights from Keenan Ivory Wayans, I guess.
Chris: In true Warner Bros. fashion, Stanley finally disposes of Tyrell by whipping out an artist's palette, painting a lever on the side of a fake palm tree, and flushing him down the pool. Seriously. That happens, and it is amazing.
Matt: It is actually really clever. What isn't clever is that Tyrell ends up in the fountain/pool because he charges at Big Head with a knife. I wonder what Peter Greene thought his character motivation was there. "Bullets won't hurt him. But what if the metal was moving...slower?"
Chris: He was a big Dune fan.
Matt: The bad guy's dealt with, so Stanley releases Tina and removes the mask. The cops flood in and arrest Tyrell's gang, and, for good measure, the mayor insists that Stanley's a hero, because Tyrell was the mask, not him.
Chris: I told you this was the Phoenix Wright legal system, although I'm not even sure the concept of the Mayoral Pardon exists even there. With all that settled, Stanley and Tina drive over to the bridge, and she throws away the mask for him so they can make out. Then Richard Jeni jumps in after it and Milo paddles by holding it in his mouth. THE END...? (yes, Jim Carrey declined to do a sequel. There was a cartoon though.)
Matt: Yeah, Stanley still broke out of a police station and assaulted that guard. He wasn't even Big Head then. But whatever! Happy ending!
Matt: I was really struck by Jim Carrey's performance as Stanley. I wouldn't call it understated by any stretch, but he pulls off the lovable sad-sack act nicely and does some really skillful, CGI-less physical comedy.
Chris: He does well as the Mask, too. It's hard to critique a character that's actually meant to be grating and annoying for doing just that, and it actually ends up being a pretty interesting part of a surprisingly sophisticated story. Tyrell's a bad guy, but the bad guy of the movie is Big Head. He's the one who gets Stanley in all this trouble, robs the bank, terrorizes Cameron Diaz at the park. Shocking as it might be, this plot holds up better than almost anything else we've had to watch.
Matt: Except for one major thing, which I'll mention later. Along those lines, the movie does a nice job, at least for the most part, of really creating a cartoonish atmosphere. It's got a true live-action-cartoon feel, to the point where I had to actually mention Roger Rabbit a couple times throughout the review. It's that close.
Chris: On that same tip, I think it is genuinely fantastic that this big goofy live-action cartoon ends with the sinister murderous villain literally being flushed down a giant magic toilet. That's f**king hilarious.
Matt: Also, and this is kind of a small thing, but the bumbling cops are legitimately funny.
Chris: They are. And considering that this is her first movie - and from what I can tell, her first role of any kind outside of that softcore bondage picture where she appears as "Naked Girl" - Cameron Diaz does really well. You can easily see why she went on to be such a huge star.
Matt: When she gets to be more than just a girl in distress, she does do really well. Particularly in the lip-syncing club vamp scene.
Chris: The '90s swing revival stuff isn't necessarily bad, but man oh man does it date this thing to a very specific three months in 1994. I'd forgotten how much of it is all over this movie, as evidenced by the fact that one of the four (4) locations used in this thing is a parody of the Copacabana.
Matt: Right. That's something that's totally specific to the movie, not the comics. Big Head only started wearing yellow zoot suits after the movie.
Chris: Probably a better way to lure in the kids than, you know, murder sprees and domestic violence. I like the Punisher, though, so who knows?
Matt: To your point about the grating qualities of Big Head himself: I'm not sure I agree. I think he's supposed to be more of a '90s "He's so in your face! You have to love him!" kind of character. But even assuming that he's supposed to be intentionally obnoxous, he is STILL OBNOXIOUS.
Chris: Are you saying that somebody should have stopped him?
Matt: This may be the first review we do together in which we get into a slap fight.
Chris: I'd tend to agree, but I also can't pretend that I didn't love that character when this thing came out either, to the point where I literally said, out loud, "you can't make the scene if you don't got the green" before asking my mom for $20 so I could get into the county fair. Am I proud of that? No. But did this movie hit its target demographic of obnoxious 12-year-olds right square in the parents' wallets? Yes it did.
Matt: That's the thing. What may have been intentionally grating to rational adults became a cool character for kids everywhere, to the point where that Mask cartoon was just Catch Phrase City. Another issue, and you brought it up: What exactly was motivating Tyrell there at the end?
Chris: Yeah, that part is shaky as hell. He wants to kill Niko, but considering that the Mask himself was an unstoppable engine of destruction even when it was just Stanley, you'd think he'd just go over there and kill him. The Mask does things big, I guess. Also? The whole exhaust pipe gag.
Matt: That and the Pepe Le Pew bit. Uncomfortable. But back to the Tyrell thing, parts of the movie's script are really underdone, like they were rushed. The explanation that The Mask only works at night came really late, and may have been a late addition to the script. I'd be willing to believe they had Tyrell in the mask for that whole last bit of the movie until someone realized he couldn't wear it in the daytime, and just quickly wrote him out of it for a time. If he'd had the mask on, it'd explain why he'd want to blow the club up.
Chris: The cartoon stuff works best when it's a contrast, not just Tyrell suddenly becoming Snidely Whiplash and tying Cameron Diaz to a big cartoon bomb at the end. Although, the fact that he wants to steal the War Orphans Fund? Hilarious.
Matt: Two last things: The score to this movie is atrocious. I didn't even notice it as a kid, but man, is it bad. And if the swing stuff didn't date this movie, the CGI in some places definitely would.
Chris: I actually thought the CGI was pretty solid for the most part, when it was doing the cartoon effects like the wolf head. It was only bad in bits like Stanley picking up Mask-Milo, where he was very clearly just pretending to react to something that was going to be added in later.
Matt: Yeah, it's not bad everywhere, and the fact that some parts are supposed to be cartoony helps, but it sticks out in spots.
Chris: Two things, Matt. One, you'll be sad to hear this, but after you mentioned that you wanted a pair of Stanley's nautical pajamas, I checked eBay and Amazon so that I could get them for you as a Christmas present, and there were none to be found.
Matt: Maybe there really was only one pair in the world!
Chris:Two, we mentioned The Mask Animated Series that came out after the movie, where a few of the ideas for the never-released sequel were used. I never saw it, but it sounds nuts - here's a bit of description from Wikipedia:
The Mask is also apparently even aware of the surroundings when he isn't being worn as during one episode Stanley attempts to control the Mask with the Sister Mask which seems to work at first only for the mask to go back to normal and state the sister mask doesn't work at all (though this may actually be due to The Mask and Stanley sharing knowledge).
Matt: Weird stuff. I forgot about this, but Peggy was a main character in the cartoon, too. The whole selling Stanley out to gangsters thing would be hard to forgive, but he's a Nice Guy, so.
Chris: The sequel and cartoon aside, this thing held up a hell of a lot better than I thought it would.
Matt: I said on Twitter that it's both better and worse than I remember, and I really mean that. Worse in that stuff I thought wasn't annoying at 12 or 13 is like nails on a chalkboard to me now. Better in that there's a lot to the movie that ISN'T that stuff. But in the cultural consciousness, the catchphrases and bluster are what linger.
Chris: Speaking of catchphrases and bluster, that's exactly what we have to look forward to next week, when we take on 1995's Judge Dredd.
Matt: It wouldn't be the '90s without one Rob Schneider appearance, would it?
Chris: Kind of surprised we only have the one to look forward to. Wait, he's not in Tank Girl, is he?
Matt: Nah, but Reg. E. Cathey is. He's all over these.