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The Mask at 25: How critics in 1994 slammed the film’s ‘astonishingly lazy’ comedy, but praised Jim Carrey’s ‘antic energy’

As the surreal superhero movie turns 25, we take a look back at the early reactions to what would become a cult classic

Adam White
Monday 29 July 2019 14:03 BST

Today marks 25 years since the release of The Mask, the second of three career-making comedies released in 1994, along with Dumb and Dumber and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, that turned Jim Carrey into a comedy sensation.

It was also a pioneering special effects showcase, home of a number of memorable catchphrases (“Sssssssmokin’!” undeniably the “Yeah, baby, yeah!” of the early 1990s), and introduced a smouldering Cameron Diaz to a generation of gaga adolescents.

But for the critical class of 1994, The Mask was also something of a damp squib – regarded as not particularly funny or enjoyable, and only rescued by Carrey’s then-fresh rubber-faced schtick. And with the film now largely regarded as something of a cult classic, and certainly one of the most daringly weird comic book adaptations of the last 30 years, it’s interesting to take a look back at the first responses to the film upon its release. Here are just a small sample...

“[Jim] Carrey returns in The Mask, an astonishingly lazy and perfunctory effort that does little to realise his comic potential… [it] underscores the shrinking importance of conventional storytelling in special effects-minded movies, which are happy to overshadow quaint ideas about plot and character with flashy, up-to-the-minute gimmickry. Far more energy has gone into stretching Mr Carrey’s face, twirling his legs and conceiving animation-style gags for him to exploit than into creating a single interesting character or memorable line.” Janet Maslin, New York Times

“Lean, mean and green, The Mask is unquestionably a money-making movie machine. But there’s nothing mechanical or rote about the offbeat romantic adventure. This showcase for the talents of Jim Carrey is adroitly directed, viscerally and visually dynamic and just plain fun. The box office will be booming just like the title character’s heart, and the film should easily emerge as one of the year’s biggest commercial successes.” Leonard Klady, Variety

The Mask taps Jim Carrey’s antic energy and Play-Doh pliability, fortifies these with animated alchemy and, alakazam, the star is transformed into Gumby on paint fumes. Effectively, the comic actor becomes one with a Tex Avery-type ‘toon in a series of sequences that are literally jaw-dropping. But these loopy-doopy interludes aside, there’s little else to recommend this slight comic variation on Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Rita Kempley, Washington Post

“Crowds won’t flock to The Mask for subtlety. They want to see Carrey play monkey boy and go bananas. That he does, especially in a free-for-all climax that pulls out all the stops in head-spinning hilarity. Even when the gags are laboured, Carrey stays light on his feet. This gifted clown has found the right vehicle for his souped-up silliness. Carrey is the ultimate party dude, and like the masked man says, this party is smokin’.” Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

“Not only is he adept at physical humour, the kind of knockabout stuff that recalls the classic silent clowns, but Carrey also has a bright and likeable screen presence, a lost puppy quality that is surprisingly endearing.” Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

“Cameron Diaz is a true discovery in the film, a genuine sex bomb with a gorgeous face, a wonderful smile, and a gift of comic timing. This is her first movie role, after a brief modelling career. It will not be her last. Her chemistry with the Carrey character holds together a plot that is every bit as derivative as it can be, and when she dances with the Mask the result is one of those scenes when movie magic really works.” Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

With Diaz propelled to superstar status as a result of the film, and becoming one of the most bankable and highest-paid actors by the turn of the 21st century, it is Ebert’s review that proved to be the most prescient of all.

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