The 90s On Netflix: The Mask (1994)
Mark Harrison | On 16, Oct 2020
Director: Chuck Russell
Cast: Jim Carrey, Cameron Diaz, Peter Greene, Peter Riegert, Richard Jeni
Watch The Mask online in the UK: Netflix UK / Amazon Prime
/ Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store / CHILI
Do you remember the 1990s? Mark does. On Fridays, he flashes back to the golden decade of our childhood. From family-friendly films to blockbusters we shouldn’t have been watching, get ready for a monthly dose of nostalgia, as we put down our VHS tapes and find out whether the 90s on Netflix are still Live & Kicking.
Superhero cinema should have primed us to wear a mask in order to protect ourselves and those around us long before the coronavirus pandemic, but rarely is that message more entertaining than in 1994’s The Mask.
Bank clerk Stanley Ipkiss (Jim Carrey) is chronically shy and geeky until he happens upon the ancient mask of Loki floating in the river in Edge City. Once he dons the wooden mask, he transforms into a green-skinned, zoot-suited avatar of the Norse god of mischief, who winds up police detective Kellaway (Peter Riegert) and ruthless gangster Dorian Tyrell (Peter Greene) alike.
Russell had previously directed A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors for New Line Cinema, then known as “the house that Freddy built”, and he was handed the Dark House comics at the point where the studio wanted to turn them into a horror franchise. Correctly surmising that the comic’s grimdark tone would put off audiences, he worked with screenwriter Mike Werb to adapt the story into a family-friendly romantic comedy. At one point, they even considered making the film into a musical.
After a stint in development hell while special effects caught up to the live-action cartoon that Russell wanted to make, the film wound up being a huge critical and commercial hit and is fondly remembered among the very best family comedies of the decade.
What’s more, this is the second of three films I’ve covered in this 90s On Netflix column that collectively turned Jim Carrey into the biggest box-office draw of 1994. It’s also the most comfortably tailored to its star’s considerable talents, proving less obnoxious than Ace Ventura and maybe a little sweeter than Dumb & Dumber. (We’ll get to that, I promise.) Steve Martin, Mike Myers, and Keanu Reeves were all considered before Carrey eventually won the role, but it’s important to note that he’s as good with the mask off as he is with it on. A little of the Mask’s manic mugging goes a long way, but Carrey is great across all parts of the film.
But the big discovery here is Diaz, who dazzles in her acting debut. Many of these retrospective pieces dwell on her iconic introduction, but she’s on scene-stealing form throughout. From the off, she’s got the comic timing that would propel her on to Hollywood’s A-list, enlivening a stock gangster’s moll spectacularly.
With a different approach than the violent and nihilistic source material, the film is a straight-up delight, with its 1940s aesthetic making it as visually rich as the Tim Burton Batman films at the time. Meanwhile, the main holdover from Russell’s fledgling plan to make it into a full-blown musical is the hilarious Cuban Pete number, where the Mask mounts a full-on musical with cops as backing singers and dancers during a stand-off. As fun as a musical version might have been, it’s all the more effective for being the only thing like it in the movie.
Talk of a sequel continued throughout the 1990s, but the less said about 2004’s Carrey-free follow-up Son of the Mask, the better. Initially soured on making sequels to his movies after his experience on Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, Carrey later starred in 2014’s Dumb And Dumber To, making this the only one of his 1994 trifecta that he hasn’t revisited (yet). Typically, it’s also the only one we’d like to have seen.
As well as making instant stars of its leads upon release, The Mask proves an evergreen comedy upon repeat viewings, whether it’s for the sight gags and pop-culture references you didn’t get when you were younger or the way in which it’s just as funny next to today’s comic book cinema as it was back then. Only the Deadpool movies (also starring a fourth-wall-breaking Canadian hero) have approached this level of cartoonish hilarity since, but this one keeps it family-friendly too.
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“Has the planet gone mad? My brother, passion’s hostage. I seek justice – denied! I shall not submit! I shall conquer! I shall rise! My name is Gomez Addams, and I have seen evil!”
The Mask is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription. It is also available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.