Son of the Mask
Directed by Lawrence Guterman
I have to start by saying that I don’t hold children’s movies to the same standard as adult films. I cut them considerable slack with respect to excessive slapstick comedy – too much of that drives me crazy in romantic comedies intended to portray real-world people. I also give kids’ movies a break in the realm of character and plot. I don’t expect them to rival quality adult movies in those areas. There are exceptions – The Incredibles is a rare film that appeals to kids without sacrificing character and story. Son of the Mask isn’t in the league with The Incredibles -- or Lemony Snicket, for that matter – it’s more of a conventional comedy for kids – somewhat dumbed-down but engaging visually. The movie is full of splashy production design, costumes and special effects – heavy on the bright, primary colors. It looks like a cartoon done up in big-budget Hollywood fashion. The production costs reportedly ran $84 million – shocking for a film without big-name stars. As nice looking as Son is, I think that somebody got a little carried away and let costs get out of control.
A sequel to 1994’s hit The Mask, Son of the Mask – without the high-wattage star power of Jim Carey – has the magical mask fall into the hands a happily married loser named Tim Avery (Jamie Kennedy) after his faithful dog finds it. When Tim wears it to a company Halloween party (one of the best scenes in the movie, complete with a dance number) he is transformed into a taller, more handsome, cool guy who rocks the party. Like Popeye eating his spinach, he’s transformed. When Tim goes home to his wife (Traylor Howard) and makes whoopee, she conceives a son, Alvey, who inherits the power of the mask. Oh… I forgot to say that whoever wears the mask acquires the power of Loki, Norse Mythology’s god of mischief.
I knew I was being set up when Tim is left to take care of Alvey for a week. Predictably, total slapstick-disaster ensues during Tim’s week with Alvey – the only funny parts were the battles between Alvey and the Otis, the dog. Otis got jealous after he lost his room in the house to the baby. When Otis, a Jack Russell Terrier, puts on the mask he morphs into a green-crazed-big-eyed-animated-monster-dog with fangs – I found it hilarious, but most adults probably won’t. Since Alvey has his special powers, he’s more than a match for Otis – those scenes reminded me of Wile E. Coyote versus the Roadrunner – with the Roadrunner effortlessly evading the Coyote’s attacks. It’s done with impressive special effects – I’ll bet most kids will love those scenes. The dog is great, by the way – I don’t know why, but Jack Russell Terrriers seem to make the best canine actors.
Probably the weakest element of the movie is that the character of Tim (unmasked) is a boy-in-a-man’s-body who can’t function in the real world – an extremely overdone character. A select few actors can take a part like this and really run with it – Jim Carrey is one – but it was a huge mistake to write the part this way and not cast it with one of those rare actors. This type of incompetent adult character is a staple of children’s movies – it came across as annoyingly pathetic to me, particularly since it wasn’t even well done – but I doubt that it will hurt the film’s appeal with kids.
In these silly movies for kids, if there’s a well-done bad guy, he’s almost always the most interesting character. In this case, Alan Cumming stole the show with his Loki. Loki’s dad, Odin, is angry at him for losing the magic mask, so Loki is desperate to retrieve the mask and applies his full powers to the task. The fun part: since Loki is a shape-shifter (in Norse Mythology as well as in this movie), we get to see Alan Cumming have fun with lots of outrageous costumes and props. Loki chases Tim, Alvey and Otis around until they get to a final showdown – the obligatory final battle between the bad – in this case a stylishly wacky villain -- and the good.
If you take your kids to this movie, it might serve as a springboard to a discussion of various mythologies, starting with the Norse Mythology used here and going on to how most cultures that have been around for a while develop some kind of mythology, which can dovetail with religion. The Loki character in the movie is fairly consistent with the mythological Loki as I understand it. Odin, however, is not Loki’s father in the mythology – he’s a step-brother who is usually cast as Loki’s rival.
There is a famous quote W. C. Fields – something to the effect of ‘never perform with a dog or a small child…’ with the implication the adult actor will inevitably be upstaged. I have always suspected that W. C. was kidding – what’s wrong with being upstaged a little for the sake of a really funny scene? Son has both of those forbidden elements and the much of film’s charm derive from them. The Alvey character (played by twins Ryan and Liam Falconer) is not only cute but the filmmakers added some wild special effects – silly stuff – that you will either love or find outrageous and over-the-top.
Son of the Mask is a crazy ride visually – so it will lose a lot if transferred to DVD – but, by adult standards, it comes up short in character development and story. I had fun with it and I imagine most kids will as well.
Photographs are copyright New Line Cinema.
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