SPOILER WARNING – THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE MASK, WHICH IS 24 YEARS OLD SO MAYBE DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT
I recently watched the Jim Carrey movie The Mask with my son. The first thing his mother said was, “If I hear you saying any lines from that movie, you’re grounded”.
I think she was talking to both of us.
When The Mask was released in 1994 it was an instant, massive hit. Everyone was quoting this movie. Of course, everyone quoted everything Jim Carrey said in every movie he was in because he was literally the biggest star in the world starting in ’94.
Check this out – The Mask, Dumb and Dumber, and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective all came out that year. Three massive comedies. And even though people don’t seem to talk as much about The Mask today, it made $351 million on a $23 million budget.
Let’s take a look at why.
1 – Jim Carrey – There are so many great – almost perfect – things about this movie, but without Jim Carrey it wouldn’t have been the success that it is.
Carrey is sweet and charming as Stanley Ipkiss, but gleefully menacing as the Mask. Rarely has an actor had the opportunity to play such different roles in the same film. At its heart this is a Jekyll and Hyde story, taken to its cartooniest extremes. And Carrey plays both roles beautifully.
The filmmakers realized they wanted as little makeup as possible over Carrey’s expressive mug, and that they were getting the best results by simply enhancing what he could do.
In short, nobody else could have played this role and made The Mask as magical as it is.
2 – Wait… WHO?!? – Chuck Russell directed The Mask.
In case you don’t recognize that name, he also directed the remake of The Blob, Back to School, Dreamscape, Hell Night, and…
Wait for it…
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, the best Elm Street movie, one of the best horror films, and one of the best sequels of all time.
Russell maintains a fast pace and has a great eye for action. I can’t even imagine all the shaky cam bullshit that would happen if The Mask were made today. But the 1994 film has long, steady, wide shots that make great use of some gorgeous sets and big scenes.
3 – And Introducing Cameron Diaz – You know that Warner Bros. cartoon with the wolf in the night club? The one that The Mask paid tribute to in the Coco Bongo when Stanley (as the Mask) is watching Cameron Diaz’ character, Tina, perform?
That’s how we all felt seeing Cameron Diaz for the first time.
When she walks into the bank, making her first appearance on the big screen, Diaz looks almost unearthly. She projects beauty, charm, and raw sex appeal. Then she starts delivering lines and it turns out she isn’t just a pretty face; she’s clever and has an endearing personality.
Hot blondes were a dime a dozen in the late 80s and early 90s, but Diaz was a new breed of funny, gorgeous, and smart. In the same way that Jim Carrey was essential in the roles of Stanley and the Mask, for this movie to be as special as it is Tina had to be Cameron Diaz.
4 – The Baddest of the Bad – A great hero needs a great villain, and Peter Greene has played a villain in everything.
Okay, maybe not everything, but lots of things. You’ll know his evil face when you see it. What I like about his character, Dorian Tyrell, is that he’s a true foil to Carrey’s Stanley Ipkiss. He’s not funny or charming or likeable. He is a straight-up dick that the audience is dying to see get his come-uppance.
5 – Milo – The whole time we were watching the movie, I was just sitting there waiting to see my son’s reaction to Milo wearing the Mask.
He loves animals and dogs in particular, so I felt like that scene would be the highlight. I was not wrong. He dug the movie as a whole, but he was absolutely roaring with laughter at the cartoon Milo. Like, hiccups-when-it’s-done laughter.
Even outside of that scene Max the Jack Russell Terrier is a wonderful part of the movie.
“Not the cheese, Milo – the keys!” gets me every time. And the look on his face when the guard stirs is priceless.
6 – Richard Jeni – Stanley’s best friend, Charlie, is a loveable jerk. He could’ve easily been unsympathetic and off-putting, but even when he doesn’t seem to be looking out for Stanley, Jeni’s portrayal makes him more of a schlub and less of a prick. By the end of the movie he’s firmly in the “good guy” category and even gets the last big laugh of the film.
I don’t know how much Jeni wanted to act or pursue roles, but judging from his performance in The Mask his film career should have been much bigger than it was. He was a brilliant stand-up and a great supporting actor.
7 – Heel Turn – From the start Amy Yasbeck’s reporter character, Peggy Brandt, is set up as the more likely love interest for Stanley. Not only does Tina seem way out of his league, but she’s straight-up using him. Peggy, on the other hand, has the whole spiel about “Nice Guys”.
One of the things that I find so admirable about The Mask is that it bucks narrative conventions and has “Nice Girl” Peggy betray Stanley to Dorian for nothing more than a payday. She’s not even coerced into doing it – she just wants the money! It was a shocking turn back in the day and it’s still a very effective plot twist in this day and age.
8 – Cuban Pete – Easily my favorite musical scene from any mainstream movie, ever. It’s so good that Paul Feig was going to jack it for his Ghostbusters re-whatever. Fortunately he thought better of it and cut the scene from the final product.
9 – Kellaway & Doyle – I would watch the shit out of a police procedural show starring these two.
Obviously nobody is stealing a comedy film from Jim Carrey, but Peter Riegart and Jim Doughan come about as close as anyone could. Every single scene featuring these two cops is laugh-out-loud funny. Their chemistry and timing are absolutely amazing. Kellaway’s frustration with Doyle’s naiveté and earnestness is delicious.
10 – Looney Effects – For early CGI, the effects in this movie look great. Granted, they have the benefit of being intentionally cartoony and not realistic, but they still blend fairly seamlessly into the action. Even the wacky tornado that happens when Stanley (and others) don the Mask work well within the fictional world depicted.
11 – Let the Good Times Roll – This soundtrack is amazing.
It could possibly be argued that The Mask ushered in the swing revival of the mid-to-late 90s. That sounds right to me. After all, this was the first big exposure for acts like Royal Crown Revue and Stray Cat Brian Setzer’s newly formed orchestra.
There were also some really fun pop/R&B tracks from K7, Tony! Toni! Toné!, and Xscape. Top that off with Fishbone’s “Let the Good Times Roll” and two different versions of “Cuban Pete” and this is the soundtrack not just for The Mask, but for a party!
Yeah, there were some slow jams too and that’s not my thing, but you can’t begrudge a film soundtrack it’s more introspective and romantic cuts.
The funny thing is that as much as The Mask’s soundtrack dates it, it’s in a fun way and not in a lame way. It’s an odd mish-mash of styles and genres that make it unique rather than stale.
12 – Update This Thing! – Next year is the film’s twenty-fifth anniversary and I think it’s high time we got a fancy pants Blu-ray release from someone like Shout Factory, as well as re-releases of both the soundtrack and Randy Edelman’s fantastic score; possibly from Waxwork Records.
The Mask is a landmark film that deserves some modern recognition, as its cast and story transcend the era that it is seemingly mired in to create something truly special. Here’s hoping someone takes notice of this overlooked gem.
Heck, I’d be up for a small run of figures from NECA. Thye just need to be sure to include Milo in the Mask!
Be sure to join the conversation in the Needless Things Podcast Facebook Group!