Principal Cast : Jamie Kennedy, Alan Cumming, Traylor Howard, Kal Penn, Steven Wright, Bob Hoskins, Ben Stein, Magda Szubanski, Sandy Winton, Rebecca Massey, Ryan Johnson, Victoria Thaine.
Synopsis: Tim Avery, an aspiring cartoonist, finds himself in a predicament when his dog stumbles upon the mask of Loki. Then after conceiving an infant son “born of the mask”, he discovers just how looney child raising can be.
Pity poor Jamie Kennedy. Reputedly lured to this troubled and long-in-development sequel to the Jim Carrey 1994 cult smash, Kennedy was still a rising star and comedic force, producing his own projects and perhaps most recognisable to wider cinema audiences for his co-starring turn in Wes Craven’s slasher classic Scream. Having never led a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster before, the star of his own self-titled television show eventually signed to the project despite concerns about his character and the project’s focus on him as a human, rather than as the green-faced anti-hero of Carrey’s samba beat classic. He was right to be worried: Son of The Mask is an execrable, astoundingly awful movie, nigh unwatchable from the very first frame of its ghastly aesthetic and tin-eared dialogue, off-key “comedy” and incredibly laughable visual effects.
Kennedy plays aspiring cartoonist Tim Avery, who is married to Tonya (Traylor Howard) and resolutely desperate to forward his career at the city’s premiere animation studio. After his dog Otis locates a mysterious green mask, Tim – who inadvertently uses the magical device as part of his Halloween costume, and subsequently impregnates his wife whilst consummating their love – suddenly discovers that he’s to be a dad; when their son, Alvey, is born, he exhibits mischievous powers including the ability to shape-shift, produce cartoon violence and replicate old-time cartoon styles including that of legendary Michigan J Frog. Meanwhile, Norse God Zeus (Bob Hoskins), infuriated with the chaos his son Loki (Alan Cumming) is letting loose on the world, order his wayward son to retrieve the mask forthwith. With Loki set on locating the mask, and Tim’s life spiralling into insanity with Tonya leaving him to babysit for a weekend, the effects of the mask on the Avery family will forever be linked with the God of mischief.
Son Of The Mask is an irredeemable disaster. How a major studio let this see the light of day astounds me; for certain, the dailies were never properly guided by the studio, with director Lawrence Guterman, whose previous film Cats & Dogs was a breezy, kiddie-friendly hit, utterly out of his depth here. It helps none that the script is an absolute travesty, the kind of incomprehensible mess that has elements of intriguing character development to it, but casts these elements aside in favour of shit pratfalls, shittier cartoon parody, and shittiest acting performances. The 90 minutes it runs feels like three hours, which is the most damning indictment to its flavourless ineptitude. Every screeching second, every profoundly hideous moment, every toxic frame of this unpalatable misfire feels like an eternity, and I would argue that watching this film is quite literally the worst torture test yet devised by the hands of man.
Lance Khazei, a man whose filmography reads like a film school student who barely graduated, is credited with the screenplay but I think “credited” is being generous. That a human being sat down and wrote dialogue so inorganically tepid, so off-key and so preposterously unfunny would itself have been an effort worthy of an Academy Award, if only that effort wasn’t wasted with this egregious attack on the English language. Most problematically, Son Of The Mask takes the first film’s brief and clever homage to the work of Tex Avery and ratchets up the uncomfortable parody of an animation titan by leaning into that throwback aesthetic as if it might still make sense. Nobody under the age of forty will understand any of the references in this movie, which are so blatant they actually play entire scenes from the “One Froggy Evening” short from Merrie Melodies circa 1955 to hammer home to point. This crass utilisation of a cultural icon is so blithering and inept but it isn’t really the most appalling element at play here, rather its Guterman and Khazei’s opinion that their material in any way comes close to matching this pinnacle of 20th Century artistry that does Son Of The Mask the most injustice.
Jamie Kennedy sure ain’t Jim Carrey, either. When he is afforded time under the green rubber mask, which looks far too different to the effect employed by Carrey and Co in the original film to sit right with me, Kennedy has trouble coming off as anything other than a sad, uninspiring cosplay version of the 1994 version. The role is too obfuscated by mid-00’s CGI and reliant on this digital trickery to sell the premise that he’s a mischievous imp out for a good time, with Kennedy labouring under the wildly buck-toothed sophisticated prosthetics to make a solid go at the job. For too much of the film he spends out of the mask reacting to the antics of his creepy on-screen baby, performed in real-life by twins Ryan and Liam Falconer, augmented by really, really terrible visual effects and a doll-face insidiousness that isn’t in any way amusing or inviting. You can feel Kennedy’s intentions in his character Tim (because calling him Tex Avery is too on-the-nose, I guess!) but he’s well out of his depth in this nonsense, unable to make the lead role compelling or empathetic or even enjoyable. Instead it just looks like he’s having a shit time at the office, and he is.
Co-star in this debacle Traylor Howard plays the eponymous wife of our hero with the subtlety and nuance of a shart in an elevator. Frankly, Howard is obnoxiously repellent in this, offering little weight or interest to a character so badly written and so stupidly directed you wonder why they bothered in the first place. Howard isn’t alone, either. Normally you could claim that reputable actor Alan Cumming can elevate even the worst movies simply by appearing in them, or at least be the most watchable part of even the turdiest clusterfuck: in Son Of The Mask, not even Cumming can sift his way through this debacle, failing to draw a single laugh as the world’s campiest Loki (he predates Tom Hiddleston’s MCU work in the role by a few years) and for all the world looks like he’s stepped off a Joel Schumacher Batman set. Bob Hoskins is unrecognisable as Odin, perhaps blessedly in some respects by being buried beneath several layers of thick makeup saved him from any real blowback from the film’s abominable performance.
There’s a nugget of creativity here, however, similar to a corn kernel protruding from the last beer-shit I took on the weekend. Production design, costuming and cinematography are among the stronger aspects of this loathsome outing, although Randy Edelman’s score is appropriately obnoxious considering the elementally unfunny comedy at work here. Lawrence Guterman has to take the blame for this substandard product, and for almost single-handedly ruining the Mask franchise. Both he and screenwriter Khazei utterly miss the point of what made the original film great: solid characters, a grasp of actual comedy that isn’t a single-digit IQ requirement, and a solid plot to back it all up. Saddling audiences with an exorcist-requiring child at the centre of it all was the grossest misstep here, and trying to make Kennedy’s Tim Avery subservient to this plot device the worst of worst decisions as a filmmaker. Kennedy hasn’t the acting chops to match Carrey’s rubber-faced antics in terms of physical comedy, so why not go with a little wittier dialogue by way of subverting our expectations? Instead, Guterman relies on a barrage, nay an avalanche of CG effects to generate the gags (spoiler, they don’t work at all) and leaves his cast, none of whom are serviced well by this excruciating script, to fumble and mug for the camera as the conclusion approaches all too slowly.
Son Of The Mask is the worst personification of abysmal, by-committee filmmaking I’ve seen in years. It’s a grotesque, objectionably atrocious film without a single redeeming feature. Apparently the studio demanded thirty-odd minutes be trimmed from the initial cut, but I fail to see how adding thirty minutes back into this pustulous boil on the anus of Hollywood might improve things in any way. Kennedy’s experience with, and in the aftermath of, this film led him to make his own documentary about the pitfalls of criticism of performers, Heckler (2007), which speaks volumes as to the negative impact this project must have had on his life, and on his mental health. Son Of The Mask would have been served better if it had been cut to a two-minute trailer and been released in that format instead. As a feature film it’s one of the most godawful pieces of shit I’ve had the misfortune to sit through by choice.