Dir. Lawrence Guterman
Film #9 of The ‘Worst’ of Cinema
If there is an example of how, even with all the set design, animation and costumes in one’s access, a film can still collapse to pieces if the story and creative decisions are incredibly poor, Son of the Mask, while far from the worst thing I’ve seen, shows this and was one of the worst reviewed films of the 2000s to prove it. Many reviews of this critically infamous sequel to the Jim Carrey vehicle The Mask (1994) slammed the CGI effects, especially for the titular baby of the film’s narrative, as being gruesome and dismissed the bodily function jokes, but at least these parts have a cartoonish edge to them that is engaging. A convoluted and trite script is something difficult to make good. After acquiring the mask of Loki, the Norse god of deceit and trickery, aspiring animator Tim Avery (Jamie Kennedy) ends up being promoted at his workplace and an expectant father after wearing the mask for himself. Unfortunately, Loki himself (Alan Cumming) wants his mask back, and his son, born from the mask, is a being able to manipulate reality and himself in inhuman ways and has no love for his father when his mother (Traylor Howard) has to leave for an extended period for work.
What partly makes the film redeemable is the percentage that becomes a live action animation. It is a grotesque one because of the computer animation used, as Avery’s dog Otis ends up wearing the mask and, in his devilish Wile E. Coyote form, desires to get rid of the baby taking away his owner’s attentions, but its anarchic tone in those skits are refreshing and do their best to pay tribute to the classic cartoons, like the Looney Tunes, that are shown in the film itself and replicated. Whether I could put up with ninety minutes of this kind of CGI cartoon is unforeseeable, but the period when the film becomes this, it’s potentially off-putting nature, mixed with super deformation of reality from a Chuck Jones animation, would have been subversive against other cookie cutter family films and an admirable attempt at something fresh. The first scene in the film, where Loki unleashes his rage in a museum, gives a lot of promise to the film, with its intentionally fake computer effects, even if it wouldn’t be for everyone. The look of the film – the garish colours, oversized plastic items, the crash zooms and swirling camera, and prosthetic effects – are actually good, combining the world of American cartoons with the kitsch of children’s theme parks and toys that would have had the potential to be memorable if the content written within them was actually any good.
Unfortunately, the script is terrible bar the few golden moments of what could have been, and the poor creative ideas are cringe inducing. It says so much, of how ill advised some of the decisions made for the film truly were, when the first time, out of only two, Avery wears the mask his antics descend into a terrible musical number where Kennedy has to attempt to rap and also sing like a stereotypical country singer and Elvis in the same disastrous moment. The horror I encountered viewing Dude, Where’s My Car? (2000), of the dated pop culture of the time that still clings to us still in some areas especially in music, rears its ugly head in the poor Adult Contemporary, rap and R&B songs in the film and attempts to be ‘down’ with a youth audience by the creators that comes off as embarrassing. And in comparison to Jack & Jill (2011) and its notoriety with its product placement, there is a straight-to-the-screen shot of a Gameboy Advance and Mario Kart that even detractors of Adam Sandler would find far too gratuitous for him to have in any of his films. For children, their parents who took them to see Son of the Mask at the cinema, and someone like me who would have preferred a more slapdash version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), this attitude in the film’s tone alienates everyone. Outside the segments with the dog and baby replicating a live action Tom and Jerry short, the humour is erratic, sometimes visually inspired with maybe a flaw to it, other times soured by poor writing or never funny in the first place. For every striking piece of visual and production work, there is so much of the film that is underwritten badly. The plot itself, including Avery’s anxiety with become a father, has been seen in many movies, but still could have worked especially in such a hyperactive and cartoonish film, as with a scene where Avery images a nightmarish hospital scenario that is fittingly ghoulish and amusing, but the writing relies entirely on trite plot points and pop culture at that time that hasn’t dated well. That the conflict of the story with Loki could have been resolved, removing a large chunk of the film out of existing and an unrecognisable Bob Hoskins as Odin from existence, if he kindly asked Avery for his mask back.
It also seems a shame that the film feels as lacklustre as it is as Alan Cumming clearly realised what his performance should be like for the material. Some viewers may see him lowering himself in his performance as Loki, but going through numerous costumes and props, Cummings tries his hardest to fit the tone of a live action animation even when he is handed terrible lines of dialogue and a spiked haircut that has been thankfully left in the early 2000s. Son of the Mask is general is a film that tries its hardest like Cumming but is handicapped by a script far more unpleasant in its clichés and poor writing than the CGI characters smacking each other about. The violent tones of the pratfalls at least have a chaos to them that is cathartic, which cannot be said for the mistakes in the script. It’s a film where the production staff, costume and sets designers do everything asked by them, and do their hardest, only for the script their work was based on to let them down.