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.
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A cartoonist named Tim Avery loves his dog, Otis, more than anything in the world. But when Tim and his wife have a baby, Otis starts to feel left out. But then Otis finds an enchanted mask and plots to be rid of the baby once and for all, but is unsuccessful. Meanwhile, up in Valhalla, Odin is infuriated at Loki for losing the mask and orders him to go get it... Written by
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Am I from a different planet? Maybe I should conjure Odin
Series note: As this is not a direct, chapter-like continuation of The Mask (1994), one can easily watch either film first.
If I ever needed proof that I'm looking for something different in a film than most folks, here it is. While I don't think Son of the Mask is flawless, the only flaw I can really see is that the flow of the story doesn't quite make it as enrapturing or emotionally impactful as, say, Schindler's List (1993) or The Shawshank Redemption (1994). Two factors mitigate that lack. One, Son of the Mask isn't shooting for the same compelling emotional intensity as a film like Schindler's List. Two, Son of the Mask's other outstanding artistic qualities enable it to largely transcend any problems it has with achieving a spellbinding plot.
Of course, related to point one above, it's not that every film needs to have a paradigm-shattering plot to succeed. The Godfrey Reggio/Philip Glass trilogy of Koyaanisqatsi (1983), Powaqqatsi (1988) and Naqoyqatsi (2002) all receive scores of 9 or 10 from me, and debatably they have no plots, even if they make many cogent, often philosophical, "arguments" about culture.
But it's not that Son of the Mask's story isn't good. The plot is set in the same location--the fictional Edge City--as the first Mask (as well as John Arcudi and Doug Mahnke's comic books, upon which both films are based). The story could take place either before or after the beloved Jim Carrey film. Tim Avery (Jamie Kennedy) lives in the bucolic countryside that's ironically only two miles outside of Edge City (it seems almost like a northeastern New Jersey, Westchester County or southwestern Connecticut joke). The mask of Loki, the "God of mischief" in Norse mythology, comes floating down a stream, to be found by Tim's dog, Otis (in an alliterative reference to Odin, Loki's father, and a pun on Milo and Otis). Tim puts it on just in time for a Halloween party, which enables him to get in the good graces of both his boss, played by comedian Steven Wright, and his wife, Tonya (Traylor Howard). Prior to this, Tim was having trouble at work as a struggling animator relegated to giving studio tours dressed up as a giant tortoise, and his wife was nagging him about having a baby.
Meanwhile, we get to meet Loki himself (played by Alan Cumming) in a fabulous prologue set in a museum. It seems that he's lost his mask (of course) and Odin (an almost unrecognizable Bob Hoskins) is nagging him to find it. Tim's masked persona enables him to get a promotion and procreate, but the baby just may metaphysically be the son of Loki, and Loki exploits this fact to try to find his mask.
Although it sounds complex, perhaps, that's a more than attractive story to me. It actually trumps the first Mask film in a way by bringing the source of the mask into the proceedings. It's highly fantastical and surreal, and it enables a great number of deeper themes and subtexts. To a large extent, Son of the Mask is a film about fatherhood. It explores the fears and foibles that many fathers and fathers-to-be experience. The resolution to the film's dilemmas--and director Lawrence Guterman adeptly maintains two primary dilemmas throughout--hinge on learning how to be a better father. But there are other important themes and subtexts, including the importance of personal assertiveness (carried over from the themes of the first film), the quandaries of dual career families, "sibling" rivalry, child development issues, and maybe even the beginnings of an Oedipal complex.
Not that this is primarily a serious film, but it's not meant to be only or primarily a laugh-out-loud comedy, either. Guterman is much more concerned with achieving a thoroughgoing surrealism than he is with trying to make you laugh. I love surrealism, so I'm a prime candidate to love this film. In fact, I can't imagine anyone with a taste for surrealism not appreciating the film, at least to an extent.
The production design--including things like the sets, matte paintings, costumes, and the ubiquitous cgi--is simply amazing. The surreal action sequences are even better. Perhaps even more than the first film, Son of the Mask realizes a "live action" cartoon.
Tex Avery is again a strong reference (made obvious by Kennedy's character being named "Tim Avery" and working as an animator), as is classic Warner Brothers animation in general. A long section in the middle is a clever spoof on Chuck Jones' One Froggy Evening (1955), and there is another long section that is straight out of the Roadrunner cartoons (involving Otis first drawing up blueprints then trying to execute an elaborate, almost Rube Goldbergian "elimination contraption").
The funniest aspect of the movie for me, perhaps, was a kind of "suspended absurdity", made most clear when Tonya returns from her business trip and finds her home (which was subtly modeled after cartoon homes circa the 1940s and 1950s) still in shambles from the cartoonish events that preceded--the piano is still hanging from the top of the stairs, the giant boxing glove is still engaged, and so on.
But the performers have many funny moments, too. Although Kennedy has a couple moments of Jim Carrey-like mannerisms when Tim is The Mask, and these underscore that Kennedy can't do Carrey like Carrey can (of course), these are few and far between. Kennedy is Tim as Tim for most of the film, and funny at that. Alan Cumming was hilarious in his different disguises when he's searching for his mask, and entertaining otherwise--he's impressed me in all of his films I've seen. I also found the baby frequently funny, especially when more surreal.
Giving Son of the Mask a 1 or 2 seems simply ridiculous to me, even if there are elements of the film you strongly dislike. Technically, at least, this is an exemplary work of art. It deserves to be reconsidered.
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