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Behind the 'Mask' hides an empty plot

Without a real story -- or Jim Carrey -- visual effects are wasted on the offspring 'Son of the Mask.'

February 18, 2005|Kevin Crust | Times Staff Writer

The 1994 comedy hit "The Mask," by no means a great film but certainly an entertaining one, possessed eye-popping visuals with a neon fruit salad palette and was one of the first features to exploit Jim Carrey's unique talents to full effect. One of the keys to director Chuck Russell's transformation of milquetoast bank clerk Stanley Ipkiss "from zero to hero," as the tagline went, was placing the wizardly special effects in service of Carrey's substantial physical gifts. The Industrial Light & Magic gadgetry became an extension of the rubber-faced actor, exaggerating and mimicking his expressions rather than overwhelming them.

Disadvantaged at the outset by not having Jim Carrey, the film's wildly expensive sequel, "Son of the Mask," digs itself an impossibly deep hole by also forgoing a compelling story or introducing any characters of interest. Though the original "Mask" was based on the much bleaker Dark Horse comic book series and was clearly influenced by the kinetic energy of classic Looney Tunes animation, its offspring seems inspired only by the most vapid situation comedies and the least inventive offerings of Saturday morning cartoons, burying those who dare don the mask in a maelstrom of wasted special effects.

The movie opens with the impish minor Norse god Loki (Alan Cumming) searching for the medieval wooden mask that allows the wearer to emulate his ability to shape-shift at will. Loki's father, Odin, is displeased that he has allowed the mask to fall into the hands of mortals and demands his son retrieve it. As Odin -- a cross between Gimli the dwarf from "The Lord of the Rings" and the Minnesota Vikings mascot -- Bob Hoskins looks as if he would rather be anywhere but in this movie.

The nominal star is Jamie Kennedy, who plays aspiring cartoonist Tim Avery struggling to make his mark at an animation studio. Tim comes into contact with the mask when his dog, Otis, drags it home one day and Tim dons it as a makeshift Halloween costume. The mask transforms Tim into the hit of the company party, which also fast-tracks him at the office.

It's not a knock on Kennedy to say he's no Carrey -- who is? But when he pulls on the mask, he completely disappears, overwhelmed by a figure who resembles a green-skinned, orange-haired, hyperactive Bill Clinton belting out a truly annoying hip-hop rendition of "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You." Following the party and still grooving on his juiced-up, testosterone driven alter-ego, Tim returns home, sweeps his wife, Tonya (Traylor Howard), off her feet and nine months later they have a baby who is, indeed, the Son of the Mask.

Alvey, or Double-A, as his father calls him, has the powers of Loki without needing the actual mask. The majority of the film revolves around Loki trying to get back his mask and Tim trying to deal with a newborn who literally bounces off the walls. The baby sequences are tedious, derivative of "Look Who's Talking," "Superbabies" and the creepy dancing baby on "Ally McBeal" -- none of which were that amusing the first time around.

It's astonishing how dull a movie that packs so much visual overstimulation into its frames can be. Writer Lance Khazei and director Lawrence Guterman ("Cats & Dogs") add nothing new, and the film's main claim may be for featuring the dry monotones of political speechwriter/author/game show host/cameo actor Ben Stein and comedian Steven Wright. Not recognizing this goldmine of drollness, the filmmakers didn't even have the sense to let them share a scene.


'Son of the Mask'

MPAA rating: PG for action, crude and suggestive humor and language

Times guidelines: Fascination with bodily fluids expelled with alarming force; cartoonish violence, at times bordering on domestic abuse.

Jamie Kennedy...Tim Avery

Alan Cumming...Loki

Liam and Ryan Falconer...Alvey

Traylor Howard...Tonya Avery

Bob Hoskins...Odin

New Line Cinema presents a Radar Pictures production, in association with Dark Horse Entertainment, released by New Line. Director Lawrence Guterman. Producers Erica Huggins, Scott Kroopf. Executive producers Toby Emmerich, Kent Alterman, Michele Weiss. Screenplay by Lance Khazei. Director of photography Greg Gardiner. Editors Malcolm Campbell, Debra Neil Fisher. Costume designer Mary E. Vogt. Music Randy Edelman. Production designer Leslie Dilley. Supervising art directors Michelle McGahey, Bill Booth. Set decorator Rebecca Cohen. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.

In general release.

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