Lean, mean and green, “The Mask” is unquestionably a money-making movie machine. But there’s nothing mechanical or rote about the offbeat romantic adventure. This showcase for the talents of Jim Carrey is adroitly directed, viscerally and visually dynamic and just plain fun. The box office will be booming just like the title character’s heart, and the film should easily emerge as one of the year’s biggest commercial successes.
The comic-book refugee arrives with a nod to “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” In the fictional burg of Edge City, good-hearted Stanley Ipkiss (Carrey) works doggedly as a loan officer at a major bank. He’s a very nice guy and, true to the old saw, has wound up at the appropriate lower rung of the ladder.
Then comes that fateful night.
While his buddy and a couple of babes glide into the exclusive Coco Bongo Club, Stan gets the proverbial heave-ho. Driving back to hisdreary apartment, the dejected sap spies what he thinks is a body floating in the river. He dives into the polluted waters only to discover a carved face mask attached to a mass of flotsam.
But when he returns home and tries on the relic, the fit is frightening. Drab , mild-mannered Stanley morphs into a confident whirlwind of color with a grin on his green face revealing a set of pearly whites that’s blinding. In his new guise, the Mask, he definitely provides the edge in Edge City.
Though there’s little doubt where the tale is headed, Mike Werb’s script and Charles Russell’s direction effectively manage to mask obvious intentionswith crisp, witty banter and visual bravura.
The usual pitfall of the drab guy providing long, colorless narrative is cleverly sidestepped by means of colorful supporting characters, Carrey’s innate charisma and a truly extraordinary dog named Max as Stanley’s intrepid, industrious and perplexed pet, Milo.
Meanwhile, the dazzling special effects come as close as humanly possible to replicating the mayhem and invention of ’40s Warner Bros. cartoons. The title character literally bounces off walls, and when he spies his dream girl, his jaw puts a dent in the floor boards.
Because Stanley is such a nice, albeit uptight, guy, he can only daydream about knockout Tina Carlyle (Cameron Diaz). The Mask is another matter. Nothing is going to stop him from romancing her and dancing up a storm in one of the film’s inventive bits of pyrotechnic choreography.
The glitch is that Tina is the moll of gangster Dorian Tyrel (Peter Greene). So, somewhat inadvertently, the green-complected Mask winds up putting a monkey wrench in Tyrel’s power-hungry plans.
In addition, Lt. Kellaway (Peter Riegert) of the ECPD is in pursuit, convinced the Mask is the criminal mastermind behind the city’s current spate of lawlessness.
It’s inconceivable to imagine anyone but the dexterous Carrey as the Mask. And the film sports a uniformly strong support cast with very good villains, including Greene and Orestes Matacena, and a droll good-cop turn from Riegert. Diaz is a real find as the femme fatale who’s just looking for the decent thing to do.
Applying a deft touch, Russell, hitherto a genre director, maintains a cartoon style to the violence that’s quite suitable for all audiences. At the same time, pic has a hip sensibility that will attract young adults as well as older ones for a late summer B.O. deluge.
It may only be coincidence that the green-skinned character sports a yellow-gold suit and fedora. In the commercial academy, “The Mask’s” colors are definitely green and gold.