Thursday, April 17, 2014

Riske Business: The Mask 20 Years Later

Patrick, Adam Thas (BETA!) and I revisit director Chuck Russell’s The Mask and chat about important things such as pet peeves, pet dogs and wanting to pet Cameron Diaz.

Adam Riske: So…Cameron Diaz in The Mask. Wowee-wow-wow-wow-wow.

Adam Thas: Yes! Cameron Diaz is so attractive in this movie. That number she does right before the dance scene? She is so damn sexy in that outfit. I know some people aren't fans of her, but I don't know how anyone can see her in this movie and not think she is the sexiest thing walking.

Adam Riske: What about not walking, Beta? Wasn’t Nancy Kerrigan having a hard time getting around back in ‘94?
Patrick: The thing I will always remember about The Mask is Cameron Diaz. Few other actresses in my lifetime have made such a debut. But it's more than just her looks that makes her so memorable; Diaz gives the kind of comedy performance in The Mask that actually makes the leading man better -- more sympathetic and even funnier. Elizabeth Hurley does the same thing in the first Austin Powers movie. It's not that the role requires a lot of "acting," per se, just charisma, energy, warmth and a fantastic smile. We like The Mask because SHE likes The Mask.

That scene where the two of them dance? We actually watch Cameron Diaz become a movie star in real time. That doesn't happen very often.

Adam Thas: That scene is almost distracting because they keep cutting over to The Mask and I just want the camera to stay on her the entire time.
Adam Riske: I LOVE the scene where Stanley (Jim Carrey) and Tina (Cameron Diaz) first meet and he's just opening and closing drawers because he's so nervous. Stanley was the audience surrogate there. It’s what many of us were going through watching that scene. I was having trouble getting popcorn in my mouth. It was going in my nose and eyes.

Diaz is so full of charisma and energy The Mask. It’s a great debut. What other parts of the movie do you enjoy?

Adam Thas: I like any time Carrey is being The Mask. I just think they found the right way to show his type of humor. I really like the scene where Stanley is meeting Tina in the park and The Mask shows up and starts hitting on her. He's really creepy and overbearing, which is how he would play in real life. I love that the reporter ends up being a total bitch; even watching it for the second time I didn't see that coming. I also like how almost everything in the movie pays off later. Just as an example, two scenes with the dog: 1) How they play "find the keys" and 2) How the dog plays Frisbee. It could have been throwaway, but both turn out to be plot points later.

Upon re-watching this it was amazing to me how much fun I had watching it again. There is a lot of great stuff in the movie and it is highly entertaining.
Adam Riske: I totally agree with you about the reporter character (Peggy, played by Amy Yasbeck) turning out to be the “bad girl” and Diaz is the “good girl.” So many other movies would have played that conventionally, with the Diaz character being the femme fatale. It’s such a pleasant surprise and proof that The Mask is at least a little bit smarter than this type of movie usually is. Patrick, what do you think of The Mask 20 years later?

Patrick: Having re-watched the movie, I remain mostly indifferent towards it. I like it maybe as much as I ever did, which is to say "It's fine." There's a lot of things I don't like about it, but enough of it is passable that I can remember the things I like and ignore the movie in general. I think the writing is problematic and the conflict is pretty dull; it has the same faux-superhero vibe of most comic book adaptations from the '90s.

I still like the energy of the movie, but that's all Chuck Russell. I do like that they follow through on the dog thing. The dog is cute.

Adam Thas: The dog stuff really works. I found myself laughing at the moment when the dog finds a way to unlock the door and the cop says "Hmmm, smart dog." Through most of the movie I was thinking the EXACT same thing. The dog knows the difference between the word "cheese" and "keys!" That’s pretty impressive to the point of it being impossible; the fact that they kind of call it out in the movie is a nice touch.

Adam Riske: I enjoy the movie just as much as I used to. I was surprised by that, honestly. It's so damn entertaining and high-spirited. And I think the special effects actually hold up. They are super cartoony on purpose, but they look just as good as many 2014 special effects. Part of the reason I still enjoy The Mask as much as I do is because I would totally want to live in the world it presents. The Coco Bongo club looks fun; the world is full of dudes who look like Peter Riegert, which means I have a chance at a Cameron Diaz. What’s not to like?
Jim Carrey is great in this movie. You can sense a joy of performance and it is the best combination in his career, I think, of his sensitive and manic sides put together. Carrey’s sweeter side normally works for me even in movies I don’t feel are among his best (e.g. Yes Man, which I am a fan of against my better judgment).

Adam Thas: What parts did you guys find funny, if any? The part I found myself still laughing at is when The Mask gets shot and plays the "western" guy and then accepts the Academy Award.

Patrick: I've never really found the movie funny. I could see kids laughing at it, but very few of the jokes seem aimed at adults.

(Adam Riske looks away because he was called a kid indirectly)

I was able to appreciate the spirit of the thing more than I ever laughed, because Chuck Russell pays tribute to old cartoons and anarchy the way my beloved Joe Dante often does, but I don't laugh at any of it. Carrey is kept in check (go with me) a little more than he was in Ace Ventura, which was just an excuse for crazy mugging. The Mask has more of a story and more "rules," even if he still mugs like crazy once the green face is on.

Adam Riske: I still find some of the movie funny, but it's random stuff and not always the jokes. I laugh at things like The Mask pretend-dying (the western guy scene Beta referenced earlier), but mostly because I think of how awkward it must have been to shoot that scene for the other actor holding him, especially when he's coughing in the dude's face. I laugh at how douchey Richard Jeni (RIP) is as Stanley's friend. I laugh at how ridiculous the Peter Greene (Dorian) machismo gets. I thought it was really funny when The Mask is making balloon animals and pulls out a condom. I think Doyle (the dumb cop) is kind of funny - "But I ordered onion rings!" I also agree with Beta that Carrey is funny in the scene on the park bench with how dirty and overbearing he is ("She is so coy. I LOVE IT!").
Patrick: Jim Carrey. Do you like him more now or circa 1994? Where do you rank The Mask with his other work?

Adam Riske: I think his best era (ERA!) is from '94 to '98, which includes The Mask, Dumb and Dumber, Batman Forever, Liar Liar. This was the time of most of his more interesting comedic work and when he had better consistency with the quality of his movies. Since then, he’s been hit or miss but I remain a fan because every once in a while he’ll have something out that I love (The Majestic), like a good deal (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) or think is interesting (I Love You Phillip Morris).

I feel he’s gotten safer over the years. He’s kind of a vanilla version of his former self at this point. For examples of that, see The Grinch, Bruce Almighty and Fun with Dick and Jane. Actually, don’t see them. I’d rather re-watch The Number 23 (which is terrible) than any of those three aforementioned movies.

Patrick: I don't have a ton of affection for mid-'90s, OFF THE CHAIN Jim Carrey shtick. I find him hard to take. I'm probably less of a Carrey fan now than I was then, even though I was never exactly a "fan"; I wasn't someone who hated him, but he wasn't usually reason enough for me to go see something. Though he's done more interesting work since The Mask (Man on the Moon, The Cable Guy, The Truman Show), his more recent stuff has been so lame that I can't get rid of the bad taste. The Mask is probably one of his best roles, if only because it gives him license to do all the over-the-top shit he does in every movie but at least provides a plot-based reason for it.

I think we're supposed to like The Mask because he's hilarious and pure id, but I don't find him hilarious or dangerous or interesting. He's not a great superhero, but he's also not dark enough that we're afraid for what will happen if Stanley puts the mask on again. Does that make sense?

Adam Riske: I get it. You think he’s a shithead but you’re finding an intelligent way of saying it.

I didn't love Jim Carrey in the first Ace Ventura, but I was a fan of him on In Living Color. I remember being the only 11-year old telling his classmates that they shouldn't like Ace because he was an asshole. Ace was my '90s Tony Stark.

Adam Thas: I think this is the best "Crazy Carrey" movie. I'd like to sit here and tell you that I'm "above" Ace Ventura Carrey, but I ate that shit UP at the time. Now it annoys the shit out of me.  I think that my favorite of his is Eternal Sunshine, but this movie is a lot of fun.

Jim Carrey dates The Mask for me. Unlike Patrick, I was a complete sucker for that over-the-top Carrey stuff when it first came out. Now, it's just not as funny to me. There is still stuff that makes me laugh in his performance, but it's much fewer and farther between.

Adam Riske: Beta, you mention “dated,” which is interesting. Overall, how do you guys think The Mask has held up?

Adam Thas: The swing dancing and music was already dated when the movie came out. I see that and I think it’s supposed to be some kind of throwback or period movie, blended with modern technology -- kind of like the first Batman movie.

Adam Riske: Do you love swing dance music?

Adam Thas: I did swing dance, probably once every two months in college. I was really into it. My grandparents dug out a bunch of their old records from the '40s and I listened to them like crazy. It was a lot of fun and I met some really great ladies.

Adam Riske: I did swing dance as well. It was fun. I have swung danced (swing danced?) to the soundtrack of The Mask before. It is something I wish I had on video so I could watch it and jerk off when I’m out of Movie Facts brochures, scotch and electronic cigarettes.

Patrick: You guys are a bunch of Swing Kids. I'm more of a Newsie.
Adam Thas: What do you guys think about the Cuban Pete scene? I thought it still held up and was a lot of fun. At one point a bunch of prostitutes come out and dance with the cops and it still played well, at least for me. I like that it kind of establishes that The Mask has influence outside of just the person wearing it.

Patrick: I want to love that "Cuban Pete" scene because I love it when movies spontaneously turn into musicals (without really loving musicals; I'm COMPLIC8TED), but I don't. Maybe it's just the style of music.

Adam Riske: I enjoy the “Cuban Pete” scene. It's pretty infectious. Just like the prostitutes. I’m always fascinated by one detail in that scene; there is a movie theater called Thirty Seven Theaters and there is a Surf Ninjas poster outside that says it’s playing all week. I always wonder if it had enough cache to get multiple screens at the ol’ three-seven plex. No wonder I like The Majestic so much. I’ve always been a mark for anything related to theatrical exhibition sequences in movies. Like in Jackie Brown, it always gnaws at me that we never learned what Max Cherry went to see at the mall.

One other quick note, I didn't notice until this recent viewing that The Mask is basically a riff on The Nutty Professor. How did I miss that?

Patrick: I had the EXACT same thought about The Nutty Professor; I can't believe that's never occurred to me, knowing what a big fan of Jerry Lewis Carrey is. I think my problem with The Mask this time around is that the actual "Mask" character doesn't exist -- he's nothing but a bunch of voices and faces and spastic gestures. The Nutty Professor works because it's a take on Jekyll & Hyde. Hyde is a character. He has goals and wants. Buddy Love has goals and wants. The Mask just sings and makes faces.

Adam Riske: The Mask has a movie pet peeve of mine: there's a scene where Stanley puts on a cartoon and immediately starts laughing. No one does this in real life. You have to warm up to a laugh. The worst example of this is in Lethal Weapon, where Mel Gibson is basically laughing at the Three Stooges instantaneously.

Patrick: I get more annoyed at movies where characters/kids are watching a cartoon that's 75 years old like it's something they just do. I know it's because they're in the public domain -- or at least much cheaper -- but come on. Kids are watching something current, like the MTV or the internet. At least there's a diegetic reason for it in The Mask -- it's there to set up the gags later on and show us what's really in Stanley's heart (he said, making excuses for The Mask).

Adam Riske: Diegetic is my new word for the day. Thanks! I’ve never heard that one before! You are a learned man, Patrick Bromley. I like the word “germane.” Also “coup de gras.” I went to college. Even read a book once.

Adam Thas: I never thought of people just laughing instantly, but I agree. I understand why they have the scene is in the movie, but it's not funny. When Carrey is laughing at that scene, it's not like when we see Wile E. Coyote fall off a cliff. That shit is funny.
Adam Riske: Are you a fan of the director Chuck Russell? Do you think The Mask is his best movie? I enjoy A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, The Mask and The Blob. I am not a fan of Eraser. Never seen Bless the Child or The Scorpion King. I think The Blob is my favorite.

Patrick: While I am a fan of Chuck Russell – more so the guy than all of his movies - and I love the Tex Avery energy he brings to The Mask, this isn't one of my favorites of his films. I think Eraser has a certain charm, Elm Street 3 is one of the better sequels (even if it did essentially ruin the franchise), The Scorpion King is fun enough and The Blob FUCKING RULES. Most of the things I like in The Mask -- including the film noir aesthetic, something else I didn't notice until now (it's been many years) -- come from him.

Are you happy with this version of The Mask? Or would you rather see a different approach taken?

Adam Riske: I’m happy with this version. It has a great deal of personality and style. Part of what makes this movie special is that it’s so colorful and mischievous. I appreciate that the movie is not dark and brooding. There are plenty of those types of comic book movies.

Do you think the movie benefits from being toned down from the more violent nature of the comic? Or do you think it would have worked as a darker story?

Adam Thas: The movie is really fun. I agree with Patrick earlier that putting the mask on again doesn't seem dangerous, yet I found myself excited to watch him just put it on again. I think I enjoy the "pure id" version of him, as you said. It's fun. I haven't read the books, but I have heard they're a lot darker.

I think this was a ballsy move to make it more of a comedy. I actually watched it and thought it was a borderline kids movie at points, kind of like the way The Goonies is a "kids" movie.  There are some adult aspects, but also a lot of things that kids would enjoy. This movie could have failed miserably, kind of like the way Dick Tracy is a mess (as far as faux-genre). The Mask could have gone that way if the right people weren't in it or if the material was not handled in a correct way. Like, this movie doesn't work without Carrey in it. At all.

Patrick: I don't want a "dark and brooding" version of The Mask. I'm fine with this version. Honest. But if I was going to LOVE The Mask, it would probably have to be more twisted or violent. I like the idea of a movie that looks and feels like this one but has the ability to really surprise us with the places it's willing to go. I like the idea of this character being mostly the same but causing actual -- not cartoon -- havoc. I want him to feel dangerous. I want him to be Mr. Hyde, not a superhero. Or Mr. Hyde AS a superhero, which would be even cooler. That's a fantasy version. No one was interested in making that movie.

Where does this rank with the comic book movies of the '90s?

Adam Riske: It’s one of my favorites. I might even say it is my favorite from the '90s. I put it over The Crow, The Rocketeer, the '90s Batman movies, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, etc. The only one I think I might be a bigger fan of than The Mask is maybe the original Men in Black.

Adam Thas: I'd say it's about #3-4 to me. The Rocketeer is AMAZING and I do think that the first Blade movie is better than this, even though that's comparing it to something COMPLETELY different.
Patrick: I miss the New Line Cinema that made this movie a hit. They used to take chances and do cool genre movies. Did Lord of the Rings ruin them?

Adam Riske: Me too! New Line made the best mall movies back in the '90s. I mean jeez…Blade, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, Dumb and Dumber, Pump Up the Volume, Mortal Kombat, House Party, In the Mouth of Madness, Rush Hour, etc. These are all categorically fun or interesting genre movies and many hold up to this day.

I think you hit the nail on the head that LOTR ruined New Line Cinema. Ever since they got acquired by Warner Brothers it seems as if they are playing it safe. The Golden Compass fucked them over royally so I think they’re afraid of taking chances.

Just curious, did either of you see Son of the Mask?

Patrick: I have never seen Son of the Mask. You can tell I've never seen it because I'm not currently hanging from the neck in my basement.
Adam Thas: I have not seen Son of the Mask. I don't think I've heard a single person say one positive thing about it. In fact, I don't know a single person who was even asking for a sequel.

Adam Riske: Have you guys seen Surf Ninjas? I watched that shit constantly when I was 11 years old. I implicitly trust Ernie Reyes Jr. when it comes to my entertainment dollars.

Patrick: I haven't seen Surf Ninjas. I don't need to. I live that shit every day.

Adam Riske: I challenge one of you to an I'll Watch Anything for Surf Ninjas. I'll do one for Son of the Mask.

Patrick: Somebody stop me! I got Surf Ninjas.

Adam Riske: It might help if you’re SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSMOKIN’! Kwantsu, Dudes! Motosurf!!!

Dear readers, what do you think of The Mask? Does it still hold up?


  1. I think the movie still has a certain charm to it, but it's definitely a hit-or-miss type of movie. I'd actually say Milo (the dog) is the best part of the movie, and I would consider him to be one of the better movie animals/sidekicks. There aren't really a ton of laugh out loud moments, but there are many "chuckle" moments. I'd say Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Dumb & Dumber are funnier if you're looking for that sort of thing, but not necessarily better movies. In defense of Ace Ventura, it does tend to be overly obnoxious, and there's gross out humor, However, I do find some of Carrey's mugging to be funny to this day (the opening scene for example). It works better in short Youtube clips than as a full movie (like his work in "In Living Color").

    As for Cameron Diaz, she's absolutely gorgeous in The Mask and in There's Something About Mary. But, even by then her figure began to change, and I don't think she was as attractive as in The Mask. Her performance in Gangs of New York almost ruined the movie for me, and she was miscast in The Counselor and The Box. So I suppose I am not a fan of hers, but I'll give her credit for at least trying different roles the past few years.

    During my young adulthood I was a huge fan of Carrey's work, mostly because of his comedies. But as I grew older I became more fond of his dramatic work like in The Truman Show, The Majestic, and The Cable Guy (which it quite underrated). But after Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, his career seemed to fade into obscurity. The comedies he does seem to be cash grabs, since they don't take risks, and he stays close to the material that works for him. I don't think Hollywood really accepted Carrey in his risky roles like he expected, which is why he went back to his bread and butter. I will say he was my favorite part in Kick-Ass 2, which was more of a risky role for him to take. But that's not saying much since the movie was awful, and Carry doesn't even want to acknowledge its existence. I am looking forward to Dumb and Dumber 2, but here's hoping now that Carrey has hit 50 that he's willing to try a few more dramatic roles, as he actually has the chops for them (and doesn't need an Oscar to prove it).

    1. I am so holding out hope that Dumb and Dumber 2 does not suck.

    2. Me too! My heart says "of course it won't!" but my mind says "it probably will." I'm hoping for a pleasant surprise.

  2. Good talk, you guys.

    This feels like as appropriate a time as any to point this out:

  3. Ah, The Mask... a movie I've been avoiding like the plague because I just know a rewatch will only end in shattered childhood memories. However I saw the Mask animated series recently and that kind of holds up?

    Random side note: The F Head completist in me would love to hear a "Favorite Movies" podcast for Adam Riske and Adam Thas (and Heath too) - similar to those recorded in the lead up to the (first?) F This Movie Fest. Pleaase?

    1. Regarding Gil's side note, I would love to see this in some capacity, as well. If not in full podcast form, at least in column form, perhaps?