You remember the tag lines, even if you think you don’t. “Ooooooh, somebody stop me!” Or perhaps, “SSSSSSSSSMOKIN’!” Or even, “Hold on, Sugar! Daddy’s got a sweet tooth tonight!” Okay, maybe not that last one, but if you’ve got the time to rewatch The Mask, do it. It’s dated. It’s goofy. And boy, is it fun.
I was barely an adolescent, when The Mask hit theaters in 1994. Images from the movie to show up in my social media feeds as the movie’s release date came around again this week. And seeing them made me smile. I remember seeing Jim Carrey, at the watershed moment of his career as a Hollywood superstar, spinning across the screen in a ridiculous green mask with big fake teeth, wooing a young Cameron Diaz, who had been an unknown talent before The Mask. I remember loving it and, more quietly, identifying with the film’s protagonist, nice guy Stanley Ipkiss.
What I barely knew at the time was that The Mask feature film grew out of a relatively new Dark Horse Comics franchise. While I read and collected comic books at the time, I didn’t cross paths with the character, known as “Big Head” in the comics, until his Hollywood debut. I’ve since learned that the Ipkiss alter ego was darker and more violent in the comics, but when I rewatched The Mask movie recently, that knowledge actually made me enjoy it more.
The film pays tribute to the comic book history and even tosses a couple surprising Marvel references in there. And it does so with the help of Industrial Light and Magic, the legendary visual effects company started by George Lucas during his Star Wars years. Either way, the effects hold up even 23 years later.
If your own memory of the mid-90s classic is a little foggy, let me catch you up. Stanley Ipkiss, played by Jim Carrey, is a timid but lovable banker in Edge City. The movie opens as Ipkiss is down on his luck but filled with hope after a bombshell, a real-life Jessica Rabbit, walks into his bank’s lobby and wants to talk to him. She’s helping to rob the place, of course, but he doesn’t know it. She also becomes Ipkiss’ love interest. A failed night out with his foil, Carl Schumaker (played by the late Richard Jeni), leads Ipkiss to a river, where he discovers a green mask. Then things get wild.
The mask, Ipkiss later learns, is magical. A scholar (played by Ben Stein) tells him it’s Scandinavian in origin and possibly represents Loki, the Norse god of mischief. That makes sense, because when Ipkiss puts on the mask, he turns into, well, a comic book version of himself. The mask highlights his id, makes him express the repressed feelings that dominate his self conscious and only works at night. The mask also gets Ipkiss in a lot of trouble, which culminates when Dorian Tyrell (played by Peter Greene) steals the mask to pull of a huge heist at the Coco Bongo, a very fun-seeming nightclub central to the movie.
Everything fun happens at the Coco Bongo. There’s a stunning swing-dancing scene and a shootout. There are all th highs and lows of this mysterious green mask and its intoxicating, overwhelming effect on whomever wears it. The place is also the epicenter of a weird time warp you might remember from the 90s. Like, remember when swing dancing came back for a brief time and zoot suits were a thing again? The Mask spotted that trend two years before Swingers came out and decided that Los Angeles longed for the 40s again. It was all wacky flair, but it showed how comic book culture had its finger on the pulse, knowing what was cool before anybody else did.
The Mask still feels a little bit ahead of its time. There are more than a few things that date the film, including but not restricted to an uncomfortable depiction of gender roles. No, seriously, the scene where the Mask tries to seduce Cameron Diaz’s character while outfitted as an overly aggressive Frenchman should have never happened. From a technological point of view, however, the use of computer graphics is impressive. At the time, it felt novel. In retrospect, it was deeply prescient in terms of how comic books would comes to life in big budget Hollywood films.
The Mask was never Oscar material. It was, however, a huge hit. Having grossed over $350 million in the box office, it was second only to Batman in terms of highest grossing superhero movies. The film also hit theaters the same year that Dumb and Dumber and Ace Venture: Pet Detective were released which, let’s be honest, was probably the greatest year of Jim Carrey’s life. His brand of comedy still felt new and original. Liar Liar was still three years away. But man, The Mask? That was incredible in 1994.
What’s more incredible is that it’s still great fun in 2017. I’m an adult now. I just got a dog. In my free time, I like to organize my personal finances. I might actually be a modern day version of Stanley Ipkiss. But I don’t have a mask. After rewatching The Mask, though, I sometimes wish I did. What would I become? Who would I be?
This is what movies were made for. Go watch this one, please.