Directed by: Lawrence Guterman
Starring: Jamie Kennedy, Alan Cumming, Bob Hoskins, Traylor Howard
It's not that I especially object to sitting through bad movies. After all, that's something I do with alarming frequency.
However, this is a special case, since this week finds me writing reviews from Florida, which I'm visiting because of a family emergency. Why bring this up? Well, simply because the perks of being a movie critic for the Xpress do not extend to Lake Wales, Fla. This means that I actually paid to be subjected to Son of the Mask, which adds insult to injury. Son of the Mask is pretty darned insulting and injurious at any price -- even the matinee rate.
Of course, there was never much doubt that this movie was going to be bad. The idea of a sequel to an immensely popular (though not that great) movie where the drawing-card star, Jim Carrey, has been replaced by Jamie Kennedy was not a prospect to fill anyone with glee (except perhaps the more charitable-minded members of Mr. Kennedy's immediate family). Hollywood, however, seems to have thought differently.
Apparently, the artistic and commercial disaster of the last such attempt at a Carrey-less sequel -- Dumb and Dumberer -- taught them nothing, or they merely concluded that it failed because it was a prequel rather than sequel. Or it's possible that they thought taking a dumb, effects-driven original and turning it into a dumberer "family friendly" variant would strike a chord with a different demographic. Whatever they thought, they thought wrong.
The basic idea may have sounded solid enough: the mask, which turns milquetoast guys into green-faced cartoon characters possessed of incomprehensible charisma, turns up in someone else's hands. It's not exactly an unfamiliar concept, anyway. Nearly 60 years ago, Harold Lloyd played a nebbishy fellow who turned his boring life around while drunk in The Sin of Harold Diddlebock. This is pretty much the same transformation, with effects standing in for characterization.
Sadly, Jamie Kennedy is no Harold Lloyd; he's not even an adequate Jim Carrey knock-off.
Somewhere along the way, someone came up with the bright idea of making Kennedy's character into a wannabe animator called Tim Avery -- a touch meant to evoke the famous animator Tex Avery. Having made this decision, the filmmakers opted to include some actual cartoon footage. So, did they include footage from one of Tex's orgiastic frenzies of grotesquely exaggerated physical gags? No, of course not. That might have made some sense.
Instead, they opted for Chuck Jones' One Froggy Evening, presumably on the strength of it being more familiar to viewers than most of Avery's work. (Judging by the silence that greeted Jones' cartoon in the small audience with whom I saw Son of the Mask, its familiarity doesn't register all that well.) Plus, plot-wise, the movie could (but doesn't) riff on the concept of a singing and dancing frog that won't perform when anyone other than its "lucky" owner is looking. All they had to do was replace the talented amphibian with a CGI baby.
It's a concept that would probably appeal to anyone who thought that dancing baby was actually funny instead of just plain creepy. Regardless, the film itself eschews the more subtle style of Jones for the grotesque, physical-deformity approach of Avery's manic world in every other regard.
It's a matter of taste, of course, but to me, Avery's animation always seems clever without being especially amusing, and what works in eight-to-nine-minute doses of tightly constructed surrealism is merely repetitive when dragged out for 90 minutes. But then, nothing about this movie works very well, not in the least because it never settles on what it wants to be.
There's not that much of a plot, but what there is makes little sense. Tim wears the mask to a party, and on the strength of his manic obnoxiousness he gets a promotion, whereupon he comes home and impregnates his wife (Traylor Howard). What he doesn't realize is that since he was wearing the mask at the time, the baby is imbued with its magical powers. (One supposes that if he'd been wearing dinner clothes, the offspring would have been either Dracula or Fred Astaire, but since his wife doesn't wonder why Tim is green, has plastic hair and looks like a caricature of the late John Justin, anything is possible.)
Ah, but there's a subplot involving the maker of the mask, the Norse god Loki (Alan Cumming), who's ordered by his father, Odin (an embarrassed Bob Hoskins), to retrieve the troublesome relic. This actually results in a few passable moments of cleverness, such as Loki disguised as a plumber -- complete with a good expanse of what is commonly known as "plumber's ass." But it's not enough to make a significant difference, especially since the movie is quickly sidetracked to the situational "humor" of what happens when Tim is left to mind the baby.
The level of humor is not high (the film has a predictably high flatulence quotient), and even the lowbrow laughs are few and far between. A rational parent would call an exorcist or a doctor after the kid's impressive display of urination, or at least rename the tyke "Niagra," but that's not happening here. Instead, there's just a parade of creepy animated baby effects or almost equally disturbing CGI dog effects, all of which smack more of manic desperation than even passing inspiration. Rated PG for action, crude and suggestive humor and language.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke