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'MASK' MASTERMIND : But Aren't All Screenwriters Former Teen-Age Geek Losers?

July 31, 1994|JUDY BRENNAN

Stanley Ipkiss wore "The Mask" to escape geekiness. Mike Werb wants to strap it on in hopes his own teen-age geekiness can be recaptured.

Werb, screenwriter of the New Line Cinema film that opened Friday, based much of the dweeby character of hapless bank clerk Stanley Ipkiss, the character played by Jim Carrey, on his own awkward teen years. And now, in line to write the sequel to "The Mask," he is hoping to relive those inglorious adolescent moments one more time.

Werb, who has just wrapped writing on three other projects, says he hasn't begun discussions with New Line or director Chuck Russell yet. But Werb and Russell both have first shot at creating the sequel, which could begin filming as early as next year if the original is a hit. And a hit, says New Line's president of production Mike De Luca, means the film would make about $80 million at the box office. (Carrey has already reportedly been signed to star in a sequel, for as much as $7 million to $10 million.)

"We're just hoping the first warrants a sequel," says De Luca.

So Werb, 35, is prepped to go digging once again in his trunk of teen- Angst memories and dust off a few more unpleasantries to integrate into Ipkiss' sad-sack character.

"This movie, in many ways, is not at all like the comic book," says Werb of the Dark Horse comic that inspired the film. "In the beginning of the comic book, it's very dark and Stanley ends up killing hundreds of people, including police officers." He says Russell tapped him after reading his script on the children's book "Curious George" for Imagine, the story of a manic monkey loose in New York City. The two decided to turn "The Mask" into a wild romantic comedy.

"Chuck always envisioned Jim in this role and the script was really written for him. But for me it was more than a little bit challenging emotionally," says Werb.

"Stanley is me, sort of. I was pretty much of a loser geek in high school. I weighed 90 pounds and grew six inches, from 5-feet-4 to 5-feet-10, in one year. I have stretch marks on my knees for this! They called me 'The Worm' because it was close to my name; the kinder ones called me 'The Whip.' You don't know how many times I wished I had the mask."

When Carrey's Ipkiss puts on the ancient cursed mask, the milquetoast clerk transforms into a Tex Avery cartoon--a green-faced, zoot-suited, wisecracking phantom. "The Mask" also stars Cameron Diaz as Stanley's love interest, comic Richard Jeni as his pal, Peter Greene as the wicked villain and Peter Riegert as the befuddled cop.

Werb even has a bit role in the film. "It's outside the Coco Bongo Club. I'm supposed to look like a swank record executive who can get into any club in town. I ended up looking more like a William Morris agent."

He won't be appearing in his several upcoming projects, however. They include the action thriller "Face-Off" for Paramount, which he co-wrote with Michael Colleary; the action comedy "Hamlet," about a drug-sniffing pig, for producer Dawn Steel at Turner; "Sherman's Shadow," a comedy for producer Larry Mark at Universal; "Stretch Armstrong," a comedy based on the children's toy, for Joe Roth's Caravan Pictures at Disney, and "Machine Gun Kelly," currently in development at Columbia Pictures. Werb calls the last a "sweeping epic Depression-era romance about the gangster who never took a shot at anyone despite his name. I think it's my best work to date."

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