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New Line Cinema, Radar Pictures Inc.

Official Site

Director: Lawrence Guterman

Producers: Erica Huggins, Scott Kroopf

Written by: Lance Khazei

Cast: Jamie Kennedy, Alan Cumming, Ryan & Liam Falconer, Bob Hoskins, Traylor Howard, Ben Stein, Steven Wright


The phone from the great cartoon beyond is ringing! It’s Frederick “Tex” Avery, and he wants his gags back! And Chuck Jones is on line 2!

The Mask (1994) was a film where Jim Carrey played a cartoon aficionado who encounters the titular prop, which endows the wearer with the limitless powers of the Norse god of mischief, Loki, and also with the similarly limitless powers of the gods of special effects at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM). Together, they channeled the spirit of one of the greatest of the Warner Bros. cartoon directors of the 1940s, Tex Avery, and produced an effects movie that successfully blended cartoon effects into a live-action film. If this weren’t enough, you had a pre-anorexic Cameron Diaz who stole the show, at least for heterosexual male viewers.

A sequel was as inevitable as corrupt politics in Mr. Tex Avery’s native state. At least Son Of The Mask isn’t as bad as all that, but it is bad.

It is, in a word, formulaic. Isn’t that the problem with most all sequels? With Son Of The Mask, the filmmakers chose to concentrate again on cartoon sensibilities. I’m sure that this decision makes financial sense, but it leads to some rather obvious and shameless pandering. They even named the main character “Tim Avery” and made him an aspiring animator. There has just got to be some hidden joke about the substitution of “Tim” for “Tex.” I wish someone would explain it to me because, if there is no hidden joke, this movie is about the lamest homage in the history of film. Did they bother to change anything this time around, in order to try to keep the film fresh? Sure! They decided to lift ideas from another Warner Bros. animator of the period, Chuck Jones.

I don’t mean just little stylistic touches. They bite whole chunks out of his cartoons and vomit them back on the screen with scarcely the slightest evidence of any digestive process. Of course, I shouldn’t be so quick to condemn. I personally can’t stomach Chuck Jones either; he is simply too saccharine. Instead, why-oh-why couldn’t they have stolen from Bob Clampett?!

In a family-values, post-9/11 world, it is pretty obvious why they turned to Chuck Jones for “inspiration.” Son Of The Mask has been sanitized for your protection. It is cute, cute, cute. The title refers to an actual male baby to whom director Lawrence Guterman applies the lessons learned in anthropomorphism from his previous film, Cats And Dogs. Outside of Jeff Goldblum, what was not to like in that film? Everybody loves babies even more than pets! How could you lose? An anthropomorphic baby! What will they think of next! I know! I propose a sequel to Cats And Dogs: Kittens And Puppies!

If it were my own money on the line, I might even team this writer, Lance Khazei, with director Guterman again. For all my ranting, this film really isn’t that terrible, just boring. They do push the envelope in filmic scatological humor. Provided that ILM comes in under budget, that is probably enough to insure a profitable film in America. I’d keep Randy Edelman, who has created a musical score that is more than adequate and didn’t just rehash his winning score for the original The Mask. ILM’s effects would be required, of course. Here, they have some very impressive details, but, apart from the warts and hair, the essential look hasn’t changed as much as you might think in 10 years’ time. That would have been too big a risk.

You have to admire the actors who labor in this hopeless cause. Jamie Kennedy, playing the frustrated animator, is entertaining and likable, except where he is asked to fill Jim Carrey’s shoes, with predictable results. I’m not the biggest fan of Carrey, but I’ll admit that there are very, very few who can approach his gift for physical comedy. Kennedy can’t, but I don’t think it was very fair to ask him to try. Traylor Howard is no Cameron Diaz, but her character is all over the new family-values thing. I found her misfortune the most humorous thing in the movie. It is to her credit that I remembered that it really isn’t very nice to beat up mom.

Alan Cumming as Loki and Bob Hoskins as Odin are blessed relief and will escape this film as blameless. Cumming has three of the film’s four genuine laughs. It is always nice to see the two great living artists of deadpan, Steven Wright and Ben Stein, if only to know that they are still alive. Just think! A competition between those two would have made this film historic.

So, please go track down a cartoon collection with the genuine Tex Avery masterpiece, Red Hot Riding Hood (1943). Many more movies like this one will make the eyeballs-popping-ten-feet-out-of-the-head gag seem stupid and childish. Watch the gag done by the master and see why it is so tempting to try to channel Tex Avery, though some would do better to let him rest in peace.

—Steven Harding

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

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