Tag Archives: F

SON OF THE MASK

Grade: F

There are innumerable things wrong with “Son of the Mask,” an unrelievedly manic, gruesomely unfunny follow-up to Jim Carrey’s unexpected 1994 smash. But certainly the worst is how it trashes the great Looney Tunes shorts we all know and love. That’s surely not the intention; presumably it was meant as a homage, not an insult to their memory. But while Joe Dante might have been able to pull off the idea–he has both the affection for the old cartoons and the skill needed to recapture their magic–Lawrence Guterman (“Cats and Dogs”) certainly doesn’t. In his hands the movie is a disastrous mess. It’s actually physically painful to watch.

But one shouldn’t lay the blame solely on Guterman. After all, he was stuck with a script by Lance Khazei that couldn’t put more wrong feet forward if it tried. It starts with a prologue introducing Loki (Alan Cumming), the Norse god of mischief, who’s on orders from daddy Odin (Bob Hoskins) to retrieve the troublesome green mask he created. It then switches to Tim Avery (Jamie Kennedy)–the character’s name is clearly a nod to the great animation director Tex Avery, who must be spinning in his grave over its misuse. He’s a guy stuck in a low-level job at an animation company headed by a supposed genius named Daniel Moss (Steven Wright), whom he wants to approach with his ideas for new TV shows. He’s also resisting the urging of his wife Tonya (Traylor Howard) that they have a baby. But his dog Otis has found that magic mask, and when Tim wears it to a company party he not only makes a great impression with his madcap antics but comes home raring for action with Tonya. The requisite months later they have a young son named Alvey (Liam and Ryan Falconer), who–it soon becomes clear–has inherited Loki’s powers of transformation and mischief, which he begins using under the inspiration of old Looney Tunes masterpieces at a time when Tim is taking care of the kid alone (his wife is away on a business trip). Unfortunately, that’s the same moment when Loki is searching for the baby born with the power of the mask at his disposal and Otis, jealous of all the attention the baby’s getting, dons the mask and engages in a series of CGI-based shenanigans to get rid of the kid (think of this section of the picture as a cross between “Baby’s Day Out” and a Road Runner cartoon). Ultimately Tim has to make peace with both Otis and Tonya while battling Loki over Alvey and becoming a true father to his son. In other words, sappiness mixes with cartoon violence to prove a deadly combination.

“Son of the Mask” is a pretty big production–it boasts plenty of special effects in episodes modeled on old cartoon templates. “One Froggy Evening,” for example, is the inspiration for the manner in which Alvey drives Tim berserk–an even worse misuse of the classic than making the frog the WB Network mascot. Otis’ plots against Alvey, meanwhile, are basically Road Runner bits, though they’re so terrible that Wile E. Coyote has greater justification for bringing legal action against the filmmakers than he would against the Acme Corporation. The important point that escaped the people behind this monstrosity is that the sort of comic brutality that can work perfectly well in animated form comes across as ugly and unpleasant when done in quasi-live-action. It also doesn’t help that the CGI, while elaborate, is quite hideous too. The animated baby effect, for instance, doesn’t just seem a way-behind-the-curve copy of the dancing urchin bit from “Ally McBeal,” but proves more creepy than funny. (And it invites grossness, too, especially in a horribly overdone urination scene.) But the animated Otis and Tim sequences aren’t appreciably better.

One would like to sympathize with the cast, but that’s impossible: they undertook this tripe voluntarily. Kennedy plays Tim as though in a 95-minute television sketch, with the broadest of gestures and the leanest of comic results; Cumming continues his series of bewilderingly bad choices with a role even more dreadful than the one he had in “Spy Kids.” Howard comes on too strong–what a surprise. Hoskins, on the other hand, is lucky: his makeup is so extreme that he’s practically unrecognizable. In a disaster like this, that’s a real benefit. Ben Stein does his usual dead-voiced shtick as a museum guide in the opening scene, and Kal Penn mugs it up as Tim’s friend at work.

The only amazing thing about “Son of the Mask” is that it took a full decade to come up with a sequel this terrible, and that New Line invested an apparently big budget on it. (At least with “Dumb and Dumberer” they made it on the cheap.) But it’s a waste of time to try to figure out the thought processes of studio executives. By any standard this movie is a grotesque misfire. Time-Warner, which controls the Warner cartoon library, certainly owes the spirits of its old creators a profound apology for having allowed their masterpieces to be abused in such a horrendous fashion.

ALONE IN THE DARK

By the sheerest chance the news about Christian Slater being attacked in London by a guy with a knife broke on the very day that his new movie was press-screened. (The report has since been denied by the actor, of course.) And though it’s rather cruel to admit it, “Alone in the Dark”–a title that would seem prophetic, because anybody wandering into an auditorium showing it is likely to have very little company–is so bad in fact that it could have immediately crossed one’s mind that his attacker might have seen the picture and acted in response.

The picture is terrible beyond belief, like the worst 1940s serial ever made. But of course it’s not really a crummy Indiana Jones retread; it’s a video game movie, as is immediately revealed by an absurdly long scroll at the beginning, “Stars Wars” style, that sets up the absurd and complicated backstory about the Abkani, an ancient Native American tribe that opened the door to another dimension of being before suddenly disappeared. Slater plays Ed Carnby, a fellow still tormented by what happened to him many years ago, when he and nineteen other children were inexplicably abducted from an orphanage; as a self-styled “paranormal investigator,” he’s now trying to collect artifacts of the vanished tribe because he once served in a secret government agency (the 713) dedicated, it appears, to fighting the evil that the Abkani initially released. Unfortunately he has a rival in his search–a wicked scientist named Hudgens (Matthew Walker), associated with the 713, who was involved in the children’s abduction and is apparently in league with the evil creatures the agency is trying to combat. The scientist is also the boss of Carnby’s ex-girlfriend Aline (Tara Reid), an archeologist who looks like a sultry coed and who–obviously conscious of proper professional attire–seems to favor navel-revealing tank tops in her wardrobe. One other character is prominent: Burke Richards (Stephen Dorff), the gung-ho head of the agency Carnby was once affiliated with, who’s initially hostile to his erstwhile colleague but–in the fashion that’s obligatory in this sort of stuff–eventually becomes a steadfast, self-sacrificing ally.

It’s impossible to say anything positive about “Alone in the Dark.” The plot is idiotic, the dialogue cliche-ridden and inane, the special effects cheeseball, the acting dreadful down the line (Reid seems one of those starlets hired for reasons other than thespian, and Walker of a standard below that expected on Saturday morning television), the direction sloppy, and the technical work several grades beneath mediocre (with Mathias Neumann’s cinematography in particular having a grubby, washed-out look). The whole package is just about what one would expect from Uwe Boll, who was previously responsible for the repulsive slasher flick “House of the Dead” (another awful video game movie). As for Slater and Dorff, they stride around trying to act like tough guys and coming across two sizes too small for the part. Well, they’ve been in worse movies–wait a minute, no they haven’t.

That ridiculously long scroll that introduces “Alone in the Dark” informs us that when the Abkani opened that terrible door, they released something truly hideous into our world. A pity the writers didn’t warn us that it was this movie.