Sam Strange Remembers: THE MASK

This one is going to make even less sense than normal.

Precious few of us are lucky enough to be born perfect. Some get stuck with genes I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. Rich or poor, we are united by the fact that money can't cure stupid and seems to only exasperate ugly.

With The Mask, I attempted to provide a form of sympathetic solace for these sad souls by giving them a hero to whom they could relate. There's no hope for self-esteem from these people because, c'mon. But still, nowhere is it written you can't make a shit load of money condescending to the unfortunate.

The MaskĀ stars Matt Frewer as Stanley Spadowski, a mild-mannered office drone. Stanley was born with a decent enough face and a relatively average intelligence. His problem is a pronounced lack of spine. People walk all over him and he more or less thanks them for it. Even his two best friends treat him like shit. Friend number one is a dog who pees on his rug right in front of him. Friend number two (Richard Jenkins) is a coworker who pees on the dog when he's not looking.

One day Stanley runs into a beautiful woman at his office. He mistakenly thinks she's into him because she's played by Cameron Diaz, and her Ichi the KillerĀ smile raises male confusion wherever she goes. Having learned that she works at a mob-run nightclub, Stanley tries to catch up with her that night, but the mobsters guarding the door deem him too nerdy to enter. This, even after Stanley tries to bribe them with Magic the Gathering cards and shows off his rendition of "Come as You Are" on ukulele.

Depressed by reality, Stanley contemplates suicide. But just as he's about to jump off a bridge, he sees a wooden mask floating in the river below him. Thinking it's a drowned person, Stanley snags the mask and takes it home and puts it on.

So here's where the movie really begins. When Stanley puts on the mask it transforms him into an ultraviolent zoot-suit Robin Williams who can completely disregard physical laws and has the face of a cartoon character:

The Mask is a 100% consequence-free entity of significant scientific curiosity. You can't shoot The Mask. Not only does he dodge the bullets, but ones that hit him don't hurt or bleed or anything. If he swallows a bomb, he'll just belch a bit of fire and fart out some smoke. Amazingly enough, he can alter the physical reality of others too. If he spins you, you won't spin like a person but will spin instead inside an animated tornado. He can playfully cut your head off and put it back on just as a joke. Unless he wants it to stay off. Then you have no head and die.

See, like all movies that mix animation and live action, The Mask is surprisingly violent. I don't know who invented this rule -- me when I made Cool World or me when I made Who Framed Roger Rabbit? -- but we all have to follow it. The Mask's cartoonish interactions with the real world might make you laugh, but they definitely involve people getting their shit twisted. The Mask will kill a fool in ways previously unimagined.

As The Mask, Stanley goes on a hunt for anyone who ever humiliated him and exacts revenge. A couple of mechanics who overcharged him for shoddy car work get tail pipes shoved up their asses and die of internal bleeding. A bunch of punks who mugged Stanley all get shot in the dicks with a balloon gun that shoots balloon bullets that can pass through bone and internal organs with weightless ease. He drowns the Panera Bread employee who always shoots him loaded eye rolls whenever he orders his fat-free, sugar-free, caffeine-free frappes in a vat of cream cheese. All while doing hammy impressions of pop culture figures.

Those murders do not go unnoticed by the police. The next day, Stanley's apartment building crawls with police officers thanks to the death of his landlady via exploded noggin. Apparently, she shushed a masked assailant who retaliated with a tiny horn that turned into a massive cartoon mouth which screamed at her until she was dead. After that, the perpetrator grew springy legs and bounced all over the hallway, basically destroying it.

Stanley has no memory of committing these acts, and the mask saves him from close police scrutiny. But after seeing a list of the victims and recognizing each and every one for some slight against him, he realizes that these were his actions. Overcome with guilt, he puts the mask back on as fast as he can. Because guilt sucks.

The Mask returns to the mob-run club to hook up with Cameron Diaz. Where Stanley would have tried to win her heart by politely treating her like a dignified human, The Mask simply grabs her and salsa dances so fast her clothes rip off, after which he has sex with her in a fashion that would normally be considered a violation, but aided by The Mask's ACME wee-wee literally knocks Cameron Diaz' socks off. She rapidly gets pregnant and gives birth to a Baby Mask right there in the middle of the dance floor. Big Mask eats the Baby Mask and makes an abortion crack in Clint Eastwood's voice.

This provides grand entertainment for most of these mobsters but not the main mobster, Dorian (Sam Elliott), Cameron Diaz' boyfriend. Instantly he has his men shoot at The Mask, which only provides material for The Mask's hyper joke making. Eventually, The Mask whips out a bunch of sledgehammers and sickles and things like that and gets to work.

After killing all the mobsters and later the police officers who come to protect the mobsters, The Mask gets tired of all that murder and needs to find a place to lie low for a little while, at least long enough to watch some Looney Tunes and come up with new material. So he goes undercover as a councilor at a blind kid summer camp. There he meets Cameron Diaz' twin sister. Since she's blind, she doesn't let know how awesome The Mask is yet and treats him like a regular human being, which warms his heart. Increasingly The Mask wants Stanley to take over, but Stanley refuses for fear of rejection as well as fear of police repercussions.

Once The Mask realizes Stanley will never let him have a rest, he turns back time to Stanley's childhood and abandons him there, save for the masked face, which, taken separate from The Mask's big cartoony personality, is actually quite hideous. Stanley still thinks he's the mask though, and that confidence gives him what he needs to finally meet the world head on. Even though people treat him like he's disabled, he achieves all his goals. He buys a motorcycle and drives it cross country to meet back up with Cameron Diaz' twin sister at the blind girl camp. But then he gets drafted into the Korean War where he works as a Medical Doctor for the M*A*S*K unit. His best friend is Radar, who reminds him of his old, bashful days.

Soon after his hilarious but thought provoking M*A*S*K adventures, Stanley dies of ugliness, an illness he didn't have before The Mask changed his life. But with his dying breath, he decides it was worth it to have spent his second youth truly living rather than go on as a boring office drone no one would ever want to watch a movie about. Stanley's mom (Cher) cries her eyes out but deep down she understands, even though she totally has no idea what the fuck he's talking about.

(three stars)