The birth of this decade-later sequel would be easier to dismiss for the manic and mindless exercise that it is if the movie didn’t represent a significant technical endeavor, replete with splashy special effects. The net result is a truly numbing experience, inexplicably aimed at those who were zygotes when Jim Carrey’s energy powered its ostensible father to box office success. Almost surely destined for a brief stopover in theaters before a playdate with DVD, this misbegotten offspring features TV prankster Jamie Kennedy in a leading role, though in this case, the not-so-funny joke’s on him.
As with the original, “Son of the Mask” is positioned as a live-action cartoon, yet whatever Warner Bros.-inspired lunacy motivated the first plays here like taking Joe Dante’s cinematic tributes to those classic shorts and injecting them with steroids.
No one really escapes unscathed, but there are probably enough bodily fluid and crotch-kick gags to garner laughs from younger tykes before even their patience wears thin. The only problem is that after an opening sequence detailing Norse mythology — and how the mask of god of mischief Loki (Alan Cumming) conveys astounding powers on its wearer — it’s hard to imagine discriminating parents wanting their kids to partake.
There is even something slightly unsavory about the basic premise, in which a childlike wannabe animator, Tim (Kennedy), is horrified by the prospect of having a baby, only to don the mask and impregnate his ridiculously tolerant wife (Traylor Howard).
The product of that union is a strange-looking baby possessing masklike powers, which he manifests after watching the famous Warner Bros. cartoon “One Froggy Evening,” which is undoubtedly the best 90 seconds in the movie.
Loki, meanwhile, scours the world searching for the mask, while godly father Odin (Bob Hoskins, hidden under pretty impressive makeup) threatens to strip him of his powers if he doesn’t retrieve it, leading to an inevitable (if painfully prolonged) showdown.
Director Lawrence Guterman (“Cats & Dogs”) and first-time writer Lance Khazei load up on scatological gags and references, which is peculiar, since the Nickelodeon-watching target audience is unlikely to yuk it up over allusions to “The Exorcist” and spaghetti Westerns.
Although his WB network hidden-camera show “The Jamie Kennedy Experiment” actually had its moments, Kennedy plays Tim (whose last name is clearly an homage to animator Tex Avery) in such a cloying, juvenile manner — in essence, think of an adult speaking baby talk — that it’s painful to endure.
The best moments actually belong to the dog, Otis (Bear), at least before he inevitably dons the mask and ends up looking like a poor man’s Tasmanian Devil.
Those effects are generally quite polished, including some of the original animation, but even the design feels hopelessly derivative — as do the various permutations of the dancing and talking tot. Although such kid-driven gimmickry is usually crowdpleasing, potential laughs get lost amid the mayhem, and some of the mask-powered baby’s behavior simply comes across as creepy.
Perhaps the movie’s strangest aspect, however, is that amid the silliness it manages to be preachy, from touting the joys of parenthood to the mom’s warning that planting the kid in front of the TV is “gonna make him stupid.”
Sure, blame TV. As excuses go, that explanation might be as good as any.