Jim Carrey’s Smash Hit Comic Book Movie Is Trending On Streaming

By Nathan Kamal | Published

Jim Carrey

Jim Carrey exploded in the 1990s to a degree rarely seen before or after. His first movies made enormously successful use of his talent for physical comedy and energetic flailing, and his middle-period turn to drama surprised both audiences and critics with the sensitivity buried underneath the schtick. One of his biggest early hits is currently in the top ten most-watched movies on the HBO Max streaming service: 1994’s The Mask. The weird twists the Dark Horse comic book series has made in various adaptations over the years are often bizarre, but the massive success of Jim Carrey in the title role is not surprising at all.

Jim Carrey

In 1994, Jim Carrey was primarily known as an enormously successful impressionist on the Canadian stand-up comedy circuit and as the white guy from the short-lived but influential sketch series In Living Color. He had appeared in largely unseen films like the vampire sex comedy Once Bitten and in small roles in oddities like the time travel comedy Peggy Sue Got Married and the musical science fiction comedy Earth Girls Are Easy, which posited Jeff Goldblum, Damon Wayans, and Jim Carrey as interstellar himbos who just need full-body hair removal. It is a pretty weird movie. But the unexpected box office success of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective paved the way for The Mask and further Jim Carrey success. 

The Mask is the definition of a high-concept movie: what if an ordinary man found a magical mask that allowed him to do anything he could imagine? In this case, the ordinary man is Stanley Ipkiss (Jim Carrey), a sweet but ineffectual bank clerk and the magical mask apparently holds the power of the Norse God Loki (where was Disney+ on that one?) and unlimited power. With admirable swiftness, we see Jim Carrey get bulldozed by his boss, condescended to by his best friend/co-worker, swindled by an auto repair shop, physically tossed by nightclub bouncers, and humiliated in front of club singer Tina (Cameron Diaz in her film debut). Then he finds the Mask floating in the river (mistaking it for a drowning body) and hijinks ensue. Plus, there are mobsters, a spunky reporter, a cute dog, and a comedically hardboiled police detective. The Mask stuffs a lot of plot into a movie that is 90% schtick.

The original comic book version of The Mask has a convoluted history, beginning as a sketch by Dark Horse Comics founder Mike Richardson, adapted to a comic strip, then to stories in an anthology series, and then to four-issue limited series. It would probably shock Jim Carrey fans in 1994 that this particular Looney Tunes-influenced movie was adapted from the pages of a hyper-violent, nihilistic indie comic that included rampant murder of police and domestic abuse, but that is Hollywood for you. The Jim Carrey version of the Mask is far less violent, but more chaotic. The movie makes great use of Carrey’s ability to quickly pull off celebrity impressions (often one after another after another) and there is a true sense of love for the anarchy of Looney Tunes and vintage cartoons in the movie. 

cameron diaz

Really, the only precedent for the kind of fourth-wall-breaking, reality-bending comedy of Jim Carrey in The Mask is Joe Dante’s cult film Gremlins 2: The New Batch. In both movies, the audience is frequently addressed and then dismissed, cartoon fixtures are drawn and instantly come to life, and the zaniness of everything going on is acknowledged but never becomes the point of the film. There is also a plot about Jim Carrey’s Stanley learning to have self-respect and stand up for himself, but that feels secondary to him doing a massive Cuban rumba number with a horde of armed cops finding themselves first unwillingly, then joyously joining in.

 

Jim Carrey


Along with Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Dumb and Dumber, The Mask turned Jim Carrey into a star. All three mega-popular movies were released in 1994, perhaps one of the best years for one actor ever. Legendarily, he was paid $350,000 to appear in the first Ace Ventura movie and $15 million in the sequel, just a year later. Of all those movies, The Mask shows Jim Carrey in all his loud, cartoonish, puerile glory as the title character and the surprising amount of humanity and depth that he could portray as Stanley. Nearly thirty years later, it is no surprise it is a hit again.